Come! SNP! Stay! Good boy! Do dogs Make the Best Model Org?
The wide intraspecies diversity found among most dogs make that species a good model organism, according to Elaine Ostrander and Francis Galibert, two collaborators in a global canine genomics project who attended last week’s 68th annual Cold Spring Harbor Symposium on Quantitative Biology.
“Other model organisms are important for understanding the function of genes,” explained Galibert, of the University of Rennes in France. “The dog is important for understanding the function of alleles.”
Ostrander, a researcher at the Fred Hutchison Cancer Research Center in Seattle, presented the latest findings of the canine genomics group at the meeting, including the first genetic marker map of the dog genome. This 3,270-marker dog map spans 900 canine genes, 820 of which have known orthologs in humans, Ostrander said. The group is now looking to map out disease genes in dogs based on this map.
Because dogs are inbred, they suffer from and estimated 350 different inherited diseases that are similar to human diseases, including cancer, motor neuron disease, and congenital blindness, said Ostrander. To that end, a consortium that comprises researchers from the Hutch, CNRS Genetique et Development, and the Institute for Genomic Research, hope one day to be able to compare alleles in different breeds of dog that are linked to disease in the dogs with orthologous human genes in order to better understand the alleles underlining certain diseases.
“Many canine diseases mimic a human disease for which it has been difficult to obtain large numbers of highly informative pedigrees,” Ostrander explains on her lab’s web site. “Because naturally occurring pedigrees of dogs are multigenerational, have large numbers of offspring, and result from directed matings that favor the expression of recessive disorders, it appears much simpler to map diseases caused by incompletely penetrant or recessive alleles in dogs, than in humans.”
Ostrander also studies the role of cancer genes in high-risk families for breast and prostate cancer.
Meanwhile, the Whitehead is gearing up to sequence the dog, a female boxer named Tasha, Ostrander said. But Ostrander, Galibert, and collaborators have already been working on analyzing different sequence reads from a variety of different breeds, in order to come up with a mechanism of assigning dogs to breeds based on a handful of markers.