Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Want your own 'Game of Thrones' dire wolf? The Sad State of Genetic Manipulation

For over 25 years, the National American Alsatian Breeder's Club has been overseeing a project to replicate the physical characteristics of the extinct dire wolf. 
Thu, Mar 28 2013

The Dire Wolf Project

While dire wolves have gained immense popularity over the last couple years thanks to HBO's hit series "Game of Thrones," many people still have no idea that these animals derive from our own world - and less the one of fantasy dreamed up by author George R. R. Martin. 
For an estimated 1.79 million years, dire wolves roamed North America - averaging five feet in length and weighing between one hundred and ten pounds to one hundred and seventy-five pounds. They were roughly 25% larger than today's largest gray wolf, with a head that was broader, larger in size, and heavier. 10,000 years ago, along with mammals like mammoths and mastodons, the dire wolf went extinct - but at least one effort is underway to replicate what they may have looked like. 
Since 1988, The Dire Wolf project has been working to create a domesticated large breed of dog that mimics the feral characteristics of its ancient cousin. The first litter crossed an Alaskan Malamute with a German Shepherd. Subsequent mixings gave rise to a new breed called the "American Alsatian." With the "Game of Thrones" craze has come immense worldwide interest in the breed - but organizers are quick to point out a few key differences.
"The series is a bit misleading in its interpretation of the Dire Wolf," the official project website states." The wolves portrayed in the Game of Thrones series do not resemble Dire Wolves and should not be confused with Dire Wolf size and build. Some of the most obvious features lacking in the wolves deemed to be Dire Wolves are that they possess thin muzzles, legs, and bodies. While this is indicative of the more fleet of foot Gray Wolf, it does not reflect the size and mass of the Dire Wolf build. The Dire Wolf had shorter, thicker legs as well as a larger head and broader muzzle."
Nevertheless, American Alsatians are in demand - with growing waiting lists for puppies costing from $1,000-$3,000. Wired's Rachel Edidin recently got close and personal with some young Alsatians and described them as "noticeably calm," adding that many end up as "companion or therapy dogs for owners with special needs."