Researchers Believe Dog DNA Can Shed Light on Humans

Lori Ennis
by Lori Ennis
New research is looking to uncover genetic mysteries and using dogs as the first of its kind study participants to learn more about humans.

Researchers from Cornell University, in collaboration with Embark, have released information from a new study that looked at the genetic mutation that is responsible for blue eyes, but used the data of over 6,000 dogs to do so.

The researchers, aware of the ethical concerns that come with looking for such mutations in humans, believe that the information gleaned from dogs may give insight like we have not previously had before. Blue eyes are a common (and often stunning) trait that Siberian Huskies have, but are much rarer and still, yet occurring, in border collies and corgies. The scientists believed that looking at the genomes of dogs who did have blue eyes and comparing them to those who didn’t may give them information about the genetic mutation. The owners of the dogs used DNA kits from Embark and answered survey questions online

Related: New Home DNA Tests for Dogs Can Reveal Inherited Diseases

With that data, the researchers found that an allele on chromosome 18 was present in 100% of the blue-eyed Siberian Huskies, but only present in 10% of the general data population’s eyes, and were led to believe this may be why those Huskies have blue eyes. They theorized that the copying of the ALX4 gene is responsible for that eye color, and if that is the case, breeders who are looking for that specific trait can look for that genetic variant in their breeding dogs’ DNA.

The study, which is in preprint and has not been peer-reviewed, is possibly a gateway into the potential researchers may have when it comes to making discoveries about more complex genetic traits, behaviors and general health conditions.

Researchers believe these findings are important also because they show the ability to find information out from DNA in an age where many are having their own human DNA up for personal analyzation, but are wary of findings being shared or used against them in any way. Finding relatable information from dogs or other animals is in a way, a win-win with protecting privacy but finding new information simultaneously.

In 2005, research said dogs were a great model for human disease study and already nearly 70 heritable disorders from gene mutations in dogs have been found that are linked to humans. More because humans and dogs have less DNA sequence divergence than humans and mice do, researchers believe that their genomes may give us more insight than those of mice. As dogs have shared the environment with us for about 30,000 years, it stands to reason that dogs have lots of genetic information that we share.

Related: DNA Evidence Saves Dog In Case Of Mistaken Identity

That all said, just because there is a genome associated with disease present in your dog (or you), there is no guarantee that your dog (or you) will have that disorder. Other factors come into play, and researchers are finding more and more how complex the association is.

Lori Ennis
Lori Ennis

More by Lori Ennis