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Doggie DNA Gives Disease Insight

Fido often comes down with diseases that are similar to those that plague humans. While sad for dog owners, this presents an opportunity for researchers seeking to understand the genetic and environmental basis of disease, the Wall Street Journal reports.

"Compared to lab mice, with dogs they're getting diseases within their natural lifespan, they're exposed to the same pollutants in the environment [as people]," says Elinor Karlsson from the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

While she and her colleagues are studying pure-bred and mixed-breed dogs to trace genes linked to certain traits and illnesses in dogs, another team at Duke University is studying cognition in both dogs and dog owners. And previous studies in dogs, the Journal adds, have found that the osteosarcomas that strike some breeds are uncannily similar to those that affect children.

To add on to these efforts, Karlsson and her colleagues have teamed up with International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants to gather canine DNA and descriptions of those dogs' personalities and behaviors from their owners in a sort of citizen science approach. This, Karlsson says, may help shed light on psychiatric conditions.

Similarly, Duke's Hare founded a company called Dognition to engage pet owners in canine cognition research. So far, the company's data suggests that dogs undergo cognitive decline. If their owners then do, that would raise questions about environmental or behavioral influences that might have affected both dog and owner, the Journal notes.