U.K. charity sets out to sequence genomes from 50 dog breeds this year

Dachshunds, one of the breeds whose genome will be sequenced--Courtesy of Tony Alter CC BY 2.0

Purebred dogs are particularly vulnerable to a range of genetic diseases, from cardiomyopathy to epilepsy, but most breeders don't have access to good tests that can help them breed out those conditions. The U.K.'s Animal Health Trust (AHT) wants to change that. It is creating the country's largest canine genome bank at its Kennel Club Genetics Centre and has launched a project aimed at sequencing the genomes of 50 purebreds by the end of 2016.

The data generated through the project, called Give a Dog a Genome, will ultimately result in DNA tests that breeders can use "to better control, and in time, eradicate, inherited diseases," said Cathryn Mellersh, director of the Genetics Centre, in an interview with the Newmarket Journal.

Each genome will cost £2,000 ($2,868) to sequence, and the AHT is asking breed clubs to kick in half that amount. Ten breed clubs committed to the project in just its first two weeks, according to a press release from AHT. The breeds include Dachshunds, Finnish Lapphunds and Tibetan terriers. An additional 11 breed clubs have vowed to collect donations for the project, the AHT says.

Roger Sainsbury, who chairs the Dachshund community's health committee in the U.K., was an early supporter of the genome project. "This will produce a reference DNA sequence for the whole of the Dachshund's genetic makeup, which will be an invaluable starting point for tests for genetic diseases and also for more fundamental genetic research," he said in the release.

The AHT project is among several research initiatives around the world aimed at sequencing the genomes of companion animals. In December, for example, the University of Massachusetts Medical School launched Darwin's Dogs, which is sequencing the genomes of 5,000 dogs and looking for clues to neurological diseases that affect both man and man's best friend, including epilepsy and post-traumatic stress disorder. And last year, the University of Missouri's veterinary school set out to sequence 99 feline genomes, in the hopes of learning more about two genetic diseases that cause blindness in cats.

Sequencing animal genomes has already yielded new insights into human diseases. In September, researchers at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard announced that while investigating mutations in B-cell and T-cell lymphomas in pet dogs, they identified genes that are also known to be involved in lymphoma and leukemia in people. The Broad Institute was also involved in an earlier effort to sequence the genome of the ferret, which is a good model for several human lung diseases, including influenza.

- here's the press release about the AHT project 
- read more at the Newmarket Journal

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