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Hi! We're scientists from the Ostrander Lab at the National Human Genome Research Institute, part of NIH, and we study dog genetics and their genomes. Ask us anything!
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What can research studies on man’s best friend tell us about ourselves? As it turns out, quite a lot! That’s exactly what we’re doing as scientists who run the NHGRI Dog Genome Project. Dogs are a treasure-trove of information for understanding natural variation in populations. For example, within the 175 dog breeds recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC), you can find many differences in how traits are displayed including body size, leg length, skull shape, or fur color and type. What are the genes driving the body size differences that we see between a Chihuahua and a Great Dane? Which genes contribute to the curly fur of a Poodle versus the bristly fur of a Wirehaired Pointer? Sequencing the genomes of each dog breed and comparing them allows us to determine the genes and changes in DNA sequence responsible for those outward differences. How does this work relate to us humans? While we don’t have fur, we do have natural variation in outward traits, just like our four-legged friends. By learning more about them, we can help better understand ourselves in the process! In addition to the above, dog breeds vary greatly in their risk of getting certain diseases. More than 350 inherited diseases have been described in domestic dogs. Certain diseases occur with remarkably high frequency in small numbers of breeds, or in groups of closely-related breeds. This suggests these diseases may have a genetic component. Since many diseases in dogs are similar to disorders in humans, NIH studies of dog genetics provides insights into human diseases as well. In fact, NIH studies have been particularly successful at finding genes that influence cancer susceptibility and progression in dogs, and determining whether they function the same way in humans. The NHGRI Dog Genome Project is part of a world-wide consortium aimed at sequencing the genomes of 10,000 dogs within the next five years. About 1000 are already done! Our studies are all based on collaboration with dog owners and involve collecting DNA samples, health histories, and pedigrees. Your dog can be part of our research studies, too! We are always interested in the voluntary submission of DNA samples from all types of dog breeds as we continue to develop new studies every year. Check out our Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/DogGenomeProject/) and NHGRI Dog Genome Project website (https://research.nhgri.nih.gov/dog_genome/) for more info. Ask us anything about dog genetics, and our work on natural variation in dog populations and human disease! Your hosts today are: Elaine Ostrander, Ph.D., Chief of the Cancer Genetics and Comparative Genomics Branch, Distinguished Investigator at the National Human Genome Research Institute. Dr. Ostrander’s Border Collie, Tess, was one of the first dogs entered into the dog genome project. Heidi Parker, Ph.D., Staff Scientist, Cancer Genetics and Comparative Genomics Branch, National Human Genome Research Institute. Dr. Parker’s dogs, Hattie and Grace, are accomplished competitors in barn hunt (rat hunting)! Fortunately, Hattie and Grace do not bring the rats home. Dayna Dreger, Ph.D., Senior Research Fellow, Cancer Genetics and Comparative Genomics Branch, National Human Genome Research Institute. Dr. Dreger owns several Shelties who have distinguished themselves with awards and championships in obedience competitions. Her dogs have won so many ribbons she’s making them into quilts (the ribbons…not the dogs)! UPDATE: Thanks so much for asking all your great questions! We’re all done for the day, but will continue to answer a few more questions as they come in! You’re the best, Redditors!