Human, Dog Genomes Similar, Study Finds

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The dog has also been studied by pharmaceutical companies and universities as an important physiological model and has aided the development of bone marrow transplant techniques.

Scientists hope the completed sequence of the canine genome could eradicate progressive retinal atrophy (PRA), an inherited disease that causes blindness in dogs. It could also help researchers determine which gene causes a blinding disorder similar to PRA that exists in humans, called retinitis pigmentosa.

Completing the Picture

The technique used by Kirkness to sequence the poodle's genome, one and a half coverage of the genome, gave him only 80 percent of the sequence. Compare that to a coverage of eight times—the location of every DNA letter is determined an average of eight times—which completes 95 to 98 percent of the sequencing.

But Kirkness says the more complete sequencing of the human genome helps him to complete the picture of the dog genome.

"We ended up with a genome that is many more fragments than if we had a more complete sequence," said Kirkness. "If we were to look at the fragments in isolation, they would be hard to interpret. But we can use the human genome as a platform on which we can lay the fragments, and use the interpretation of the human sequence to understand what the fragments are."

Meanwhile, in a separate project at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts, scientists are working on the high-level sequencing of a female boxer dog genome.

The boxer is one of the breeds with the least amount of variation in its genome and therefore is likely to give an easily assembled genome sequence.

That sequencing is scheduled for completion in June 2004. It will then be compared to small amounts of sequence from 10 to 20 other breeds, including the beagle, to study genetic variation within the canine species.

Researchers at Whitehead have also sequenced the chimpanzee genome, though the results have not yet been published. Since the chimp genome differs from the human genome by only about 1.4 percent, it could greatly expand understanding of human disease, human evolution, and genetic selection.

But the complete genome sequencing of a species can cost U.S. $50 million. Kirkness believes his cheaper approach provides an attractive alternative.

"I think [our research] will spark debate on how to move forward for genome sequencing," he said. "I hope it will demonstrate that a lower level sequencing is good. At present, there are very few mammalian species that are being earmarked for sequencing, purely because of the expense."

Nationalgeographic.com Resources on Dogs

News and Features
Summer Camps Have Gone to the Dogs
Seizure-Alert Dogs Save Humans With Early Warnings
Dogs of War: Inside the U.S. Military's Canine Corps
Did Carolina Dogs Arrive With Ancient Americans?
Guard Dogs: Newfoundlands' Lifesaving Past, Present
Hollywood Gives Stray Dogs New Leash on Life
A Love Story: Our Bond With Dogs from National Geographic magazine
"Detector Dogs" Sniff Out Smugglers for U.S. Customs
Bear Dogs on Patrol for Problem Grizzlies
Veterans: Dogs of War Deserve a Memorial
Therapy Dogs Seem to Boost Health of Sick and Lonely
Life Is Serious Mission for Rescue Dogs
Crisis-Response Dogs Offer Comfort After Tragedy
Dogs Are "True Heroes" of Iditarod, Race Champ Says
Brooklyn Dog a Rising Star in New York Art Scene
Canine Companions May Help Kids Learn to Read
U.S. Beagle Brigade is First Defense Against Alien Species

Science and Dogs
Scientists Start Deciphering Dog Genome
Human Gestures Fed Dogs' Domestication
Animal Acupuncture: More Pets Get the Point
National Geographic magazine's "Wolf to Woof: The Evolution of Dogs"

News and Features About Other Canids
Eco-Terrorism Blamed for Tasmania Red Fox Release
Coyotes Now at Home in Eastern U.S.
Rare-Dog Search Meets With Success, Then Tragedy
Hi-Tech Tracking Tool Tested in Wolf Recovery Efforts
Scandinavian Wolves on Road to Recovery, Study Says
Most-Endangered Wolves May Be Saved By Vaccine
Is U.S. Safe From Foxhunting Debate?

Related Lesson Plans:
Use National Geographic News articles on dogs in your classroom with these Xpeditions lesson plans.
Lesson Plan: Little Red Riding Hood Meets—A Golden Retriever?
Lesson Plan: Geographical Dog Show
Lesson Plan: From Wolf to Woof
Lesson Plan: The Human Role in Dog Evolution

More About Animals
National Geographic Animals and Nature Guide

Other Web Sites
List of Dog Breeds (American Kennel Club)

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