Startup Embark offers detailed DNA testing for dogs

DNA

Ryan and Adam Boyko have long dreamt of creating a 23andMe for dogs--a genetic testing service that could map out key traits and ancestry details from saliva samples. Now that dream is about to come true as the brothers get set to launch Embark, an Austin-based company that will market a $199 DNA test for dogs.

Embark's test will be able to detect 200,000 genetic markers in dogs, according to a profile in Bloomberg Businessweek. The data will inform dog owners about the projected adult size of a new puppy, for example, and what risk it might be facing for up to 100 diseases. Anyone who purchases the test will be able to access the results via a website or app.

The company hopes that in addition to providing its service to individual dog owners, it will also contribute to the expanding body of data about dog genetics. "We're interested not only in returning information to owners, but actually improving the way dog genetic research is done," Adam Boyko told Bloomberg. Adam is an assistant professor at Cornell's veterinary college, from which Embark licensed its initial database of dog saliva samples.

Embark also plans to survey customers about their dogs. That way, they can try to match genomic data with health outcomes or behavior, according to Bloomberg. They might also spot genetic mutations in diseases that dogs share with people, such as cancer. Ultimately they hope to collaborate with breeders so they can reduce the prevalence of inherited disease-related mutations, Ryan Boyko told the news service.

Embark will be facing plenty of rivals in the growing dog DNA space. They include Paw Print Genetics, a Spokane, WA-based company with a $150 DNA testing kit, and Mars Veterinary, which markets an even cheaper test.

Last May, Mars Veterinary sought to expand its presence in the canine DNA-testing market, so it partnered with Finland-based Genoscoper Laboratories, which developed a comprehensive DNA test for dogs. The test, called MyDogDNA, covers most inherited canine diseases, as well as traits that define certain breeds. The two companies announced they would work together on products that will help veterinarians provide "predictive" healthcare to their clients.

The desire to understand more about canine genetics has spread through the academic and nonprofit worlds, too. In February, for example, the U.K.'s Animal Health Trust launched a new project aimed at sequencing the genomes of 50 purebred dogs by the end of this year. The data will be used to create DNA tests to help breeders eradicate inherited diseases.

- here's the Bloomberg story

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