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Dog Genome May Help Heal Humans

Purebred Dogs May Offer Genetic Clues to Human Disease Processes
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May 20, 2004 -- The same genetic traits that make a border collie a born herder or a beagle sniff out its prey may offer new clues into the human disease process, according to a new study.

Researchers say the strict breeding practices that produce champions at Westminster may provide researchers with insight on the genetic causes of common human diseases, such as cancer and diabetes.

The study showed that each of the 85 varieties of purebreds analyzed has its own genetic signature or DNA blueprint, which is responsible for the breed's unique traits. But researchers found that differences among the breeds accounted for only 30% of the genetic variations seen.

They say that purebreds share many genetic similarities with other breeds. Researchers say understanding those genetic relationship between breeds should allow them to discover the genes responsible for not only the physical and behavioral traits of the breed but also the genes linked to the diseases to which the breeds are susceptible, such as cancer, deafness, blindness, and hip problems.

"Although there may be just as many genes for a given disease in dogs as there are in humans, being able to search for them in a single breed allows us to find the one or two genes responsible for that disease in that population much more easily," says researcher Elaine Ostrander, a geneticist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, in a news release.

"There are more than 400 breeds of dog, and each is an isolated breeding population," says Ostrander. "What that means is that each dog breed is a like a little Iceland -- an isolated population that allows us to simplify a complicated genetic problem."

Dog Genome Offers Clues for Humans

In the study, which appears in the May 21 issue of the journal Science, researchers used molecular markers to look at genetic relationships in 414 dogs from 85 domestic dog breeds.

The study revealed a set of molecular markers unique to each breed. The genetic molecular marker sequences from dogs within a certain breed were much more similar than those among different breeds.

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