Scientists Start Deciphering Dog Genome

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Once the project is given the green light it will take one to two years to complete. Automation and experience gained deciphering the human and mouse genomes will make this and other sequencing efforts go faster and cost less than the early projects, said Lindblad-Toh.

All of the information from the canine genome project will be uploaded to an online public database, she said.

Eliminating Blindness

Access to that information would help Gregory Acland, a veterinarian and senior research associate at Cornell University. For several years he has worked on locating genes that cause retinal diseases in dogs. He and his colleagues developed a test that detects carriers of progressive retinal atrophy (PRA), an inherited disease that causes blindness. The test, when combined with controlled breeding practices eliminated PRA over in the Portuguese Water Dog and several other breeds, Acland said.

Despite advances, there is still a lot more work that needs to be done, continued Acland. The gene that causes PRA has not been identified in about 80 different breeds. A sequenced genome would speed up his research. It could also help researchers determine which gene causes a blinding disorder similar to PRA that exists in humans, called retinitis pigmentosa.

As the tools for identifying diseased genes becomes more sophisticated the techniques can be applied to more complex disorders in canines such as hip dysplasia, epilepsy, cancer, and behavioral problems, like compulsive disorders.

But, he adds: "To tackle those, particularly in real world pedigrees, we need the tools that come out of the canine genome sequencing effort that's just starting."

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