Today, April 25th, is National DNA Day. This day commemorates the completion of the Human Genome Project in 2003 and the discovery of the DNA double helix, our blueprint of life, in 1953. The first sequence of the Canine Genome was published only a couple of years later in 2005. Since then, more than 3,500 species have had some of their genomes sequenced, with about 100 species having their genomes sequenced at a ‘reference quality’ meaning that they can be used to see differences among individuals and used to find genes that are responsible for certain diseases or traits. Having the dog genome sequence has allowed researchers to identify genetic variants that make some dog breeds unique and have provided the ability to find mutations or genetic changes that are responsible for common and rare diseases.
Currently, more than 300 genetic changes in dogs are known that lead to phenotypic differences (the way a dog looks) or lead to inherited diseases. Knowing these DNA changes or mutations allows laboratories like Paw Print Genetics to develop tests for these so that dogs can be tested to see if they are at-risk for a disease or to see if they carry for a disease and could produce pups that could become sick. Using this genetic information, breeders can make better choices as to whom to pair for breeding and can completely avoid these known diseases in their puppies.
However, the dog has about 20,000 genes (although it could be as high as 30,000 genes) and many of the functions are not known. So although breeders now can control for some of the known diseases in dogs, there are still many mysteries to solve. On-going research into diseases and traits in dogs are likely to discover new variants and mutations that are responsible for these conditions and will lead to better tests. This provides breeders even greater opportunity in the future to produce healthy pups, with increased lifespans. Conditions like cancer and the underlying inherited components are becoming better understood and in the near future, tests will hopefully be available to screen for these diseases as well.
Today is the day to learn more about genetics and your dog’s genome, to applaud the accomplishments of thousands of researchers and to celebrate science and all that it brings to enhance our lives. Happy Birthday double helix! Knowing you has allowed us to understand our genetic blueprint, identify the genetic basis of some inherited traits and provide a diagnose for many diseases in dogs. Contact us to discuss how you can use these known discoveries about DNA and canine genetics in your breeding program. Happy National DNA Day!