Best Friend's Genome: Dog's DNA Sheds Light on Human Genetics, Too

Article excerpt

Looking at a pooch can reveal a lot about its owner, and now that includes the owner's genetics. A team headed by scientists in Massachusetts has announced the DNA sequence of a boxer named Tasha, a detailed comparison of the dog's genome with those of mice and people, and a study of genetic variation among dog breeds. The work will inform scientists' understanding of people as well as dogs, the researchers predict.

People domesticated the dog from the grey wolf from 15,000 to 100,000 years ago. In the past few hundred years, they have bred the species into roughly 400 varieties.

As people inbred dogs to develop special traits, the animals accumulated mutations that contribute to many diseases. Some, including cancers, blindness, and heart disease, progress in dogs much as they do in people. By knowing the dog genome, researchers may find disease genes affecting people, says Kerstin Lindblad-Toh of the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Mass.

The dog is the fifth mammal for which the genome has been worked out. "To understand the human and other mammalian genomes, we need to sequence a lot of them," Lindblad-Toh says.

In 2003, a different research group published 77 percent of a poodle's DNA sequence (SN: 9/27/03, p. 197). The multi-institution team that tackled Tasha's chromosomes set out to produce a nearly complete job. They determined 99 percent of the boxer's DNA sequence and report their findings in the Dec. 8 Nature.

The group also compared the dog genome with the genomes of people and mice. Past research analyzing the latter two species revealed critical DNA segments--making up about 5 percent of the human genome--that are nearly identical in the two species. …