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Peering into the future

The answer is in the genes

By Heidi Jeter

It has been 15 years since Dolly, the world’s most famous sheep and the first mammal ever cloned from an adult somatic cell, burst onto the scene in 1996. Her birth was heralded as a game-changing scientific breakthrough. It was also an entrance into a brave new world that, because of the ethical questions surrounding cloning, brought the science of genetics to the forefront of public consciousness.

Yet, the reality is that the field of genetics was already moving at a rapid pace. The Human Genome Project, an international scientific research project that began in 1989, was working to identify and map the approximately 20,000 to 25,000 genes of the human genome. The mapping of a genome is a critical step in the development of medicine and advanced health care for any species. When a working draft of the genome was announced in 2000, the topic of genetics was watercooler conversation once again. Three years later, the scientific world heralded the release of what was by most accounts a completed human genome.

Fortunately, for those who love animals, the dog genome was yapping at the heels of the human genome. In 2005, Harvard University researchers completed the sequencing of the dog genome, using genetic data from Tasha, a Boxer (which is considered the most inbred dog breed in the world). A mere two years later, the first feline genome was sequenced using the DNA of a shy, 4-year-old Abyssinian named Cinnamon. The first equine genome was also sequenced in 2007 as part of the Horse Genome Project, a cooperative international effort including more than 100 scientists in 20 countries.

These genomes have brought researchers a step closer toward identifying differences among breeds and have given them tools to study new therapies, preventions and treatments for diseases—and to do so quickly. They also offer the potential for completely individualized medicine for humans and animals— and Morris Animal Foundation is committed to helping to fund future genetic breakthroughs.

In just the past 10 years, the Foundation has funded nearly $1.4 million in genetics research for dogs, cats, horses and llamas/alpacas—and we have no intention of stopping. This special report features a few of those studies, with topics ranging from developing DNA tests for diagnosing cancer in cats (page 3), to identifying genetic markers for various diseases in dogs (page 4) and identifying the genetic causes for many equine diseases (page 6).

The future of animal health is in sight—and it most certainly is a brave new world.


Posted by on August 19, 2011.

Categories: Animal health, Animal studies, Dog health, Veterinary research

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Submitted by Dr Jeffery Richman DVM at: October 4, 2011
As time progresses I believe so much will come down to genetics. In the last 20 years I have seen more information and less cancer in Boxers, less heart disease in Boxers, less hypothyroidism in Dobes, less ear problems in Cockers. This is just to name a few positive changes when we know what to ask and what to look for. Better information and better knowledge of what to do with this information will make our world an easier place.