Give A Dog A Genome – First Samples Sent For Sequencing

The first eleven DNA samples of the AHT’s pioneering Give a Dog a Genome project have been sent for whole genome sequencing.

This exciting moment is the result of almost a year’s hard work. Give a Dog a Genome was launched in January 2016 with the aim of sequencing the entire genome (all the DNA required to ‘make a dog’) of 50 dogs, one from 50 different breeds, to create the UK’s largest canine genome bank, a tool to aid all future AHT canine genetic investigations.

Demand from Breed Clubs to be included in this pioneering project was so high the project was quickly extended in April to include 75 breeds, with additional funding from the Kennel Club Charitable Trust.

Before selecting which dog’s DNA should be sequenced for each breed, a self-reported Breed Health Summary was conducted by asking the Breed Health Coordinators to identify top health concerns amongst the 75 breeds involved. Key themes emerging from the health summary were eye diseases, such as PRA and glaucoma, and epilepsy. These themes are reflected in the first samples to be sequenced.

The first eleven DNA samples sent for sequencing are:

Gordon Setter - PRA

Picardy Sheepdog - PRA

Shetland Sheepdog - PRA

Tibetan Terrier - PRA

Siberian Husky  - Cataract

Basset Hound – Glaucoma

Dandie Dinmont Terrier – Glaucoma

Cairn Terrier – Ocular Melanosis

Pug -  Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome

English Bulldog –  Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome

Italian Spinone – Epilepsy

Breed Health Coordinators have worked closely with the Animal Health Trust to select a dog for sequencing whose DNA will have the biggest potential research benefits e.g. a dog known to have epilepsy or PRA, or another health concern relevant to that breed.

Only one dog from each breed will have its DNA sequenced and it is important the identity of the dog whose DNA is sequenced is kept anonymous. If a breed has chosen to sequence a dog with a known health condition, such as PRA, the AHT has asked for DNA from at least two different dogs with PRA to be submitted, and only the researchers will know which one is ultimately selected for sequencing.

Dr. Cathryn Mellersh, Head of Canine Genetics at the AHT, said: “It may seem like a long time coming, but a lot of work has gone into the Give a Dog a Genome project, from my team, and all the Breed Health Coordinators involved, to get to the point where we’re ready to start sequencing DNA, so it’s a really exciting moment for everyone involved in the project so far.

“It is categorically important that we choose the most appropriate dogs for sequencing. Not only are we using the sequencing technology to build up a bank of different DNA samples to capture and catalogue the breadth of neutral variation present in the canine genome, so we can more easily identify variations likely to have a negative effect on health, but where we can, we want to identify disease mutations so we need to choose DNA samples that will have the maximum benefit to that breed.

“Therefore, we’ve taken time to have detailed conversations with each breed, initially by conducting our Breed Health Summary exercise, to narrow down the most appropriate candidate dogs whose DNA will stand the best chance of giving us the most out of this unique project.

“Next starts the very long process of analysing the sequence data once it comes back. That’s 2.4 billion ‘letters’ of DNA per dog, the amount of DNA required ‘to make a dog’. My team will be carefully analysing this data, with the help of high-tech computer software as we start building up our bank of DNA.

“There’s a lot of work ahead of us - including selecting and sending off the remaining samples until we’ve got the data for all 75! But it’s fantastic how much we’ve achieved since January, the enthusiasm from so many breeds to be involved in this project, and now, the really exciting research begins!”

Aimee Llewellyn-Zaidi, Head of Health and Research at the Kennel Club, said: “We have been delighted with the development of the Give a Dog a Genome project since

it was launched in January and are excited that the first eleven DNA samples have been sent for whole genome sequencing.

“Lots of hard work has gone into this pioneering project so far and we are confident that the AHT’s ongoing work in this area will prove incredibly beneficial to dog health now and in the future.

“The project has been very well supported by breed clubs which goes to show how important it is to them to protect the future health of their respective breeds and help all they can to support the Give a Dog a Genome project.”

A further two genomes, from two additional breeds, will be sequenced alongside the 75 target breeds as individual funding was put forward before the project was officially capped for 2017.  A cut off point has now been drawn and a waiting list for Give a Dog a Genome 2, anticipated for 2018, is open for more breeds to register their interest via email.

For more information, click here.

Timeline of events so far:

January 2016 – 
Give a Dog a Genome project launched. Breeds invited to donate £1,000 towards the sequencing costs, which was match-funded by the Kennel Club Charitable Trust.

March 2016 – 
First 50 places almost gone by Crufts.

April 2016 –

Kennel Club provides additional £25,000 so 25 more places can be provided on the same match-funded basis. These places were filled in record time.

May – 
Breed Health Summary issued to Breed Health Coordinators to get a picture of top health concerns amongst the 75 breeds. GDG 2 waiting list opened.

July 2016 –

Final breed, the Basset Hound, added to project.

August 2016 - 

Breed Health Summary data collated and Breed Health Coordinators approached on a breed by breed basis regarding the most appropriate dog to sequence in terms of potential research benefits.

September 2016 –

Epilepsy revealed as top concern amongst GDG breeds, as per Breed Health Summary results.

October 2016 –

First eleven breeds submit candidate DNA samples to be sequenced.

November 2016 –

Final DNA candidates ratified by AHT researchers, preserving anonymity, and the first batch of samples are frozen for sequencing.

January 2017 –

Sequence data returned to AHT to start the long process of analyses whilst the next batch of samples are prepared for sequencing.