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Pet Product News Editorial Blog:

March 10, 2011

New Genetic Tests for Dogs

By David Alderton


Major new breakthroughs in understanding the genetic basis of various canine ailments are starting to be achieved as a result of funding of nearly $2 million over 5 years from the Kennel Club Charitable Trust. This money is supporting the work of the Kennel Club Genetics Center, which is located at the Animal Health Trust (AHT), close to the English town of Newmarket.

The money is being used for research into approximately 25 inherited canine diseases, with the ultimate aim of developing new diagnostic tests. These will enable carriers of these ailments to be detected and so should improve the health and welfare of future generations of dogs.

The research team first unmasked the genetic mutation responsible for primary lens luxation in a number of breeds. This was followed by the identification of a mutation which causes progressive retinal atrophy (PRA) in golden retrievers and in Gordon setters.

PRA is a well-recognized inherited condition to which a number of breeds of dog are predisposed. The condition is characterized by bilateral degeneration of the retina, causing progressive vision loss that ultimately leads to total blindness. Although there is no treatment for PRA, dog breeders will be able to use DNA tests to screen their animals for the condition and to factor the results into their breeding programs. The test will be available from March 14, priced at the equivalent of $78 per sample.

Gordon SetterGordon Setter Survey

Gordon setter owners who submitted their dogs’ DNA for this study reported that the affected dogs developed night blindness in the first instance. This is indicative of a rod-cone degeneration, so the team at the Kennel Club Genetics Centre termed this mutation rcd4 (for rod-cone degeneration 4) to distinguish it from other, previously described forms of rod-cone degeneration.

The mutation is recessive and 19 out of the 21 Gordon setters that showed clinical signs of PRA in the Genetics Centre’s study were homozygous (with both genes affected), indicating that this is the major cause of PRA in the breed. The other two dogs in the study had PRA but did not carry the rcd4 mutation, however, indicating there might be another, genetically distinct and rarer form of PRA also present in the breed.

*Alongside the money committed by the Kennel Club Charitable Trust, the research that led to identification of the rcd4 mutation was funded by many different organizations, including the British Gordon Setter Club, the Gordon Setter Field Trial Society, the Gordon Setter Association, the Gordon Setter Club of Scotland and the LUPA project, as well as several private individuals who also made significant donations.

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