DEC 27, 2019 04:58 PM PST

How Dog Genomics Can Teach Us More About Human Health

WRITTEN BY: Carmen Leitch

It's been estimated that there are around 70 million pet dogs in the United States, with around 36 percent of households owning at least one dog. Those dogs come in all kinds of sizes and colors; an international federation of national kennel clubs, the Fédération Cynologique Internationale, currently recognizes 344 breeds. Scientists at the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) have now compiled a catalog of the small genetic changes that are linked to certain breeds. The work has been reported in Nature Communications.

This catalog of genetic variants can help researchers learn more about health problems that impact dogs. Since people and dogs have some parts of their genomes in common, the research may also offer new insights into human diseases. Just like people, dogs get some kinds of cancer, diabetes, and some infections, noted the lead author of the report Jocelyn Plassais, a postdoctoral researcher in Dr. Elaine Ostrander's laboratory.

"This study included data from more than 722 dogs and 144 modern breeds," said the senior author of the study Dr. Ostrander, NIH Distinguished Investigator. "Through the results, we've learned some of the fascinating genetics behind the variability observed in the world's 450 dog breeds."

Many dog breeds were developed centuries ago, when humans selected certain traits for specific purposes. Dogs have changed since then, developing new characteristics spontaneously. Relying on donations by citizen scientists and their canine companions, the scientists applied whole genome sequencing and genome-wide association studies to the samples they collected to reveal genomic variants that are connected to sixteen observable characteristics.

Image credit: Pixabay

One gene they identified is called LCORL, which is linked to weight and height in dogs, and in humans and livestock, it is associated with height and skeletal size. This worked showed that a mutation in the gene may account for the different body sizes of many mammals.

Bone disorders like osteoporosis and osteosarcoma are common in many types of dogs. By comparing long-legged dogs like Great Danes to dogs with legs of normal length, like Golden Retrievers, the scientists found that a gene called ESR1 is associated with this leg length trait. In cattle and humans, the estrogen hormone binds to a protein that the ESR1 gene codes for. If the gene is mutated, mineral density is impacted, and the risk of a bone disorder rises.

There isn't much genetic variation within a breed since all dogs of that breed descend from the same 'founder' dog population. This low level of variation may make it easier to identify genetic mutations, which may offer us new insights into human biology.

"The genes underlying the range of variation in dog breeds can teach us much about our own health," added Ostrander.

Sources: NHGRI, Nature Communications

About the Author
  • Experienced research scientist and technical expert with authorships on 28 peer-reviewed publications, traveler to over 60 countries, published photographer and internationally-exhibited painter, volunteer trained in disaster-response, CPR and DV counseling.
You May Also Like
JAN 20, 2020
Clinical & Molecular DX
JAN 20, 2020
Looking into the eyes of MS patients for personalized therapies
Blurred or double vision, and in extreme cases, complete vision loss are amongst the earliest symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS). In this devastating dise...
JAN 20, 2020
Genetics & Genomics
JAN 20, 2020
Linking Genes and Behavior in an Assessment of Personality in Animals
Anyone that's owned dogs knows that they have a personality, and the same is true of mice....
JAN 20, 2020
Cell & Molecular Biology
JAN 20, 2020
Linking Intestinal Stem Cells with Increased Cancer Risk From a High-Fat Diet
The work, which used a mouse model, links stem cell activity with cellular fat consumption in a new way....
JAN 20, 2020
Genetics & Genomics
JAN 20, 2020
Chinese Scientists Implant Genes for Human Intelligence in Monkeys
Scientists from China and the US have implanted a human gene linked to intelligence in the genomes of macaque monkeys. The first experiment of its kind, th...
JAN 20, 2020
Drug Discovery & Development
JAN 20, 2020
FDA Approves Ovarian Cancer Drug to Treat Pancreatic Cancer
In 2019, an estimated 46,000 Americans died from pancreatic cancer. Now, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved Lynparza, an ovarian cancer dr...
JAN 20, 2020
Genetics & Genomics
JAN 20, 2020
Soybean Oil Found to Change Gene Expression in the Brain
Soybean oil is used for frying and for making foods like margarine and salad dressing. It's the most commonly produced and consumed edible oil in the US....
Loading Comments...