[BLOG] The genomic era: how new genetic tools will revolutionize canine breeding

I was in Beautiful British Columbia last week, lecturing on genetics in the canine species. This lecture is part of our 1stlevel talks on canine breeding (you will agree with me that it is important to stand on solid ground before trying complicated things!) and is an opportunity to give a better understanding on a discipline not generally seen as easy! We obviously spend some time on vocabulary (Phenotype vs genotype? What’s a genetic trait? What’s the difference between a gene and an allele?), laws of heredity (remember M. Mendel, the guy who was crossing red and yellow beans?) but also had a great discussion on inherited disorders and how breeders can work on their genetics.

I must admit this is one of my favourite talks because it is a good way to remind everybody how tough being a breeder can be. When you breed dogs, you are indeed in charge of your genetic selection program. Repro vets like me can offer technical help (for instance when natural breeding is not possible, this is when artificial insemination becomes the best option) but in the end, the decision to breed this bitch with this male will always remain yours. Is it an easy one to take? Definitely not, and that’s why breeding is tough. But we’re now living in the genomic area. Everyday our knowledge on the genetic material of our four-legged companions gets deeper.

New tools are/will become available, that can help you decide what might be better for your breed:

–          DNA tests: when I was still sitting on the bench of the vet school, DNA tests started to become available. Now we have more and more available (75+ different tests available and more to come,take a look here). Before we had to work on the pedigrees to detect individuals carrying the defective allele, while now a simple swab can help detecting them before they even start their breeding career!

–          The Optimal Selection® (Mars Veterinary) recently caught my attention. This test permits in fact to establish a “breeding score”, which can be used to determine what the best match is when breeding.  Results were presented on how this test was used in a breed with small number of individuals (= small gene pool), the Dandie Dinmont Terrier. Results showed that when using this test, a significant increase in litter size was observed as well as an increase in semen freezing ability. This test is now available for more than 150 different breeds and could definitely be proposed to breeders as a complementary tool to define the adequate match when breeding.

–          Whole genome sequencing technologies will be available in the future: potential mates could be screened by comparing the DNA of potential sires and dams and therefore avoiding matches for undesirable mutations.

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