An international team, led by researchers at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, today announced the publication of the genome sequence of the dog. In the Dec. 8 issue of the journal Nature, the researchers present a detailed analysis of the dog genome and describe how the data offer the potential for improving the health of man and man’s best friend.
Humans domesticated the dog, Canis familiaris, from gray wolves as long as 100,000 years ago. As a result of selective breeding over the past few centuries, modern dog breeds present a model of diversity. From 6-pound Chihuahuas to 120-pound Great Danes, from high-energy Jack Russell Terriers to mild-mannered basset hounds, and from the herding instincts of Shetland sheepdogs to pointers pointing, humans have bred dogs for desirable physical and behavioral traits. While such breeding practices aimed to preserve the preferred traits of one generation in the next, they also predispose many dog breeds to genetic disorders, including heart disease, cancer, blindness, cataracts, epilepsy, hip dysplasia and deafness.
Elaine A. Ostrander, Ph.D., chief of National Human Genome Research Institute's Cancer Genetics Branch, co-authored the Nature paper, along with postdoctoral research fellows, Heidi G. Parker and Nate B. Sutter. Dr. Ostrander's laboratory maps genes responsible for cancer susceptibility in canines and humans, including breast and prostate cancers. In addition, Dr. Ostrander was the lead author of the white paper that provided the biomedical rationale for sequencing the dog genome.
While dogs occupy a special place in human hearts, they also sit at a key branch point, relative to humans, in the evolutionary tree. It was already known that humans share more of their ancestral DNA with dogs than with mice; the availability of the dog genome sequence has allowed researchers to describe a common set of genetic elements — representing about 5 percent of the human genome — that are preferentially preserved among human, dog and mouse. Rather than being evenly distributed, some of these elements are crowded around just a small fraction of the genes in the genome. Future studies of these clusters may give scientists the critical insight needed to unravel how genomes work.
Sequencing of the dog genome was conducted as part of National Human Genome Research Institute's Large-Scale Sequencing Research Network, at an approximate cost of $30 million. Researchers can access the sequence data through the following public databases: Dog Genome Resources (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/genome/guide/dog/) at NIH's National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI).
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