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Can Scientists Completely Root Out Dog Diseases?



Scientists at Edinburgh University’s Roslin Institute are currently working on the Labradome project which could help discover the genetic roots of canine diseases.

Four years ago, Roslin Institute has launched an online project called Dogslife which aims to trace environmental roots of diseases in Labrador retrievers.

However, since many dogs suffer from genetic conditions, the scientists decided to launch the Labradome project in parallel with Dogslife.

“We picked the labrador for the simple reason that it is the most common pedigree dog in the UK,” says Professor David Hume, Roslin’s director. “However, the lessons learned from it will go far beyond this breed or indeed for dogs in general.

“The key point is that dogs like the Labrador retriever are now getting human-like conditions because – as veterinary care and nutrition improves – they are living to ripe old ages when they start to succumb to heart disease, arthritis and cognitive loss. They get Alzheimer’s disease, in effect. They also get obese and suffer diabetes as a consequence. Hence our interest.”

Moreover, this project will not only help Labradors, but could completely tackle canine disease in the future.

“We are going to sequence in depth the entire complement of genes in a healthy labrador retriever to ensure we have a perfect, accurate picture of the basic genetic structure of one of these dogs,” says Dylan Clements, the Roslin researcher who is leading the project. “Then we will sequence the genomes of a number of other labradors, animals that have various different labrador diseases, such as hip dysplasia.

“Then by comparing their genomes with those of our standard, healthy dog, we will be able to work out what are the differences in genetic sequences between the various animals. In this way, we hope to be able to unravel the genetic roots of some of the labrador retriever’s main illnesses.”

“This is a fantastically exciting time for canine genetics,” he says. “It has become an amazingly powerful tool to dissect the molecular basis for why these diseases develop and to help us ways to breed out complex inherited diseases.”

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