Dogs and people like to share everything, from long walks and playing fetch in the yard to naps and meals. Research has shown we’re so connected we even have certain genes in common. But there’s something else we share that’s not so sweet: diseases.
Domestic dogs and humans have lived side by side for tens of thousands of years. Over time, both species have developed similar health afflictions, including neurological and immunological diseases, and even cancer. That’s led researchers to study dog disease genetics to gain a better understanding of how certain illnesses manifest in humans.
But there’s a problem. While human and dog genomes were both released in the early 2000s, key elements of the dog genome are missing. Thanks to Mischka, a 12-year-old female German shepherd, all that’s about to change.
Using new methods for DNA sequencing and annotation, Swedish researchers have built a new, and more complete, dog reference genome that will help scientists better understand the link between DNA and disease in dogs and in their human buddies. And they relied on Mischka, who is free of known genetic disorders and considered genetically representative of the breed.
Studying dog disease genetics can provide precise clues to the causes of corresponding human diseases such as osteosarcoma and amyotrophic [am-e-O-trophic] lateral sclerosis, or ALS. Dogs’ shorter lifespan and their shorter time to relapse after cancer treatment allow data regarding efficacy, short- and long-term toxicity and side effects of novel cancer drugs to be generated in years rather than decades, as in human clinical trials.
Once again, dogs are proving to be man’s best friend. Cats, not surprisingly, remain unimpressed.