Doggy DNA

Molecular biologists have completely sequenced the first dog genome.

A standard poodle named Shadow, was the first dog to have its genes mapped, but only 80 percent complete. Now we have 100 percent of a boxer. "The boxer genome will help us get at the genes responsible for diseases and traits in dogs," says Ewen Kirkness, a molecular biologist at The Institute for Genomic Research in Rockville, Md.

Dogs and humans share many of the same diseases, like diabetes, epilepsy and cancer. Mapping dog genes could be the chief tool in finding disease-causing genes in people, because Kirkness says the same genes will be responsible for similar diseases in humans. Genes that cause disease in dogs are easier to find than in people. Mutations in a dozen different genes can cause human disease, almost impossible to find. In dogs, only one gene mutation can cause a disease, and that same mutated gene causes an identical disease in humans.

"Then we have a better handle on what is causing the disease in humans, also," Kirkness says. Studying dog families also helps get a better handle on their own health and help eliminate dog diseases. "Testing can be done by breeders to limit the passage of these mutations into future generations." Having a genetic map may also mean owners of pure-bred dogs and mutts may soon be able to document which breeds their dogs come from by simply sending a cheek swab or blood sample to a genetics lab.