Why start the project now?
The Canine Phenome Project is intended to complement the recently completed Canine Genome Project. This genome project has produced a nearly complete DNA sequence for a female Boxer. The Boxer sequence has been posted on internet sites where it is freely available to scientists around the world and provides ready access to essentially all of the approximately 30,000 canine genes. By comparing the Boxer DNA sequence to sequences from random segments of DNA from other dogs, the scientists working on the Canine Genome Project have identified over two million sequence differences among different dogs. Some of these sites of alternative sequence (or polymorphic sites) may be directly responsible for the differences that comprise the canine phenome while other polymorphic sites can serve as markers to help identify those sites directly responsible for phenotypic differences. These markers should, in theory, be sufficient for the discovery of the genetic causes for most of the characteristics and diseases of dogs. Unfortunately, with today’s technology, it is not logistically or financially feasible to make use of hundreds of thousands or millions of markers. Nonetheless, new technologies are under development and current technologies are capable of analyzing DNA samples with over a thousand markers simultaneously and inexpensively. In just a few years when these technologies improve, it should be possible to evaluate canine DNA samples with a large subset of the markers from the Canine Genome Project.
The Canine Genome Project is sponsored by NIH; and, as such, its expense is justified because investigations of canine diseases benefit mankind by providing insights into similar human diseases. Of course, these investigations should also prove beneficial to dogs in breeds with the target diseases. We have been considering what we can do to ensure that dogs and their owners benefit from the Canine Genome Project as widely and completely as is practical. Our solution is to initiate the Canine Phenome Project.
The goal of the Canine Phenome Project is to assemble a resource consisting of DNA samples from a wide variety of dogs with well characterized phenotypes and have it ready when the technology is ready. Computer correlations between this marker data and information about the characteristics of the individual dogs that supplied the DNA will lead to the identification of genes responsible canine diseases, temperaments, and other characteristics. Markers for these genes could guide the selection of breeding stock to consistently produce new generations of dogs well suited for their roles in modern society.
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