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Announcing the Dog Genome Project and WWW server

Mellissa MC DeMille mellissa at jeremy.berkeley.edu
Wed Jun 22 00:22:41 EST 1994

Announcing the Dog Genome Project WWW Server:

The Dog Genome Project: Principles and Goals
by Jasper Rine

	The dog genome project is a collaborative study involving
scientists at the University of California, the University of 
Oregon, and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center aimed at 
producing a map of all of the chromosomes in dogs, which can be 
used to map the genes causing disease and those genes controlling
morphology and behavior.  Different dog breeds are distinguished 
by varieties of morphologies and behaviors that exceed the range 
of variation in any other species on earth.  Dog genetics offers 
the hope of discovering the genetic basis of both mammalian 
development and behavior. 
	This project is one of the first experimental fusions of the 
two greatest ideas in 19th century biology, the discovery of Charles 
Darwin showing that evolution results from selection and the 
discovery by Gregor Mendel of the laws of genetics.  The 
fundamental lesson from the work of Mendel is how to recognize 
the existence of genes.  Mendel taught us that by crossing two 
individuals that differ in a trait and observing how that trait 
segregates in subsequent generations, it is possible to discover 
the existence of and certain properties of the gene responsible 
for that trait. Because members of the same species are usually 
quite similar, Mendel concentrated on the differences that plant 
breeders had recognized in peas and was limited to the study of 
a relatively small number of differences.
	Darwin was the first to recognize that natural selection,
commonly referred to as survival of the fittest, was the driving 
force of evolution.  Minor differences arise between individuals 
in a species through natural processes of mutation.  Most 
mutations are harmful and decrease the chance of survival.  
However, for those few mutations that cause a favorable change 
that enhance survival, the mutations will spread throughout the 
population due to the enhanced survival of the individuals with 
the mutation.  The accumulation of mutations over time leads to 
the creation of new species.  
	In theory, one could discover the genes responsible for 
the differences between breeds if it were possible to cross two 
members of a different species and observe the segregation of the
trait in the offspring.  For example the genes controlling wing 
length in birds would be recognized in the offspring of a cross 
between condors and hummingbirds. Similarly, the genes 
controlling the length of the neck in mammals would segregate in 
a cross between giraffes and warthogs.  Of course, the definition
of species precludes such and experiment due to the reproductive
isolation that separates different species.  Nevertheless, if 
such differences were to exist in a single species,  the genes 
responsible for these differences could be identified.
	Darwin also recognized that natural selection in nature 
was similar to the artificial selection practiced by breeders to 
improve the stature or performance of agriculturally important 
species.  Because of the stronger selection pressure that can be 
exerted over a shorter period of time by breeders, artificial 
selection can result in differences of such magnitude between 
subgroups in a species that would normally occur only between 
members of a different species.  Indeed, the remarkable variety 
exhibited by many dog breeds has been produced in approximately 
150 years by dog breeders. 
	There are on the order of 150 recognized dog breeds in 
the world and collectively these breeds represent an ongoing 
experiment in evolution.  By careful observation and selective 
breeding, dog breeders have created breeds with astonishing 
breed-specific differences.  The mass of Pekingese and Irish 
Wolfhounds differ by fifty fold, and the behavior of Doberman 
pinchers and Golden Retrievers could hardly be more different.  
Yet remarkably,  a dog of any breed can be crossed to a dog of 
any other breed and produce viable and fertile offspring.  
Moreover, dogs are inter-fertile with wolves, jackals and coyotes
as well.  Thus, in dogs we have the opportunity to study the 
fruits of selection with the scientific power provided by the 
laws of genetics to sort out the genetic basis of mammalian 
morphology and behavior, and to gain experimental access to the 
evolutionary process.  There is no other comparable opportunity 
in biology.
	A second goal of the dog genome project is to develop a 
map that will be useful to the entire scientific community for 
the purpose of mapping genes causing inherited disease in dogs.  
It is widely recognized that in many pedigreed dog lines diseases
run in families.  These diseases include cancer, epilepsy,
retinal degeneration, bleeding disorders, skeletal malformations 
and a host of others.  Much of the revolution in human molecular 
medicine has been catalyzed by the development of the human 
genetic map, which has allowed genes responsible for human 
genetic disease to be isolated.   The isolation of these genes 
has provided highly accurate diagnosis of many diseases well 
before the appearance of the first symptoms.  In many cases, 
insight into the molecular basis of the disease is leading to the
development of new therapeutic compounds, and the promise of 
gene therapy has already been achieved in one case.  None of this
progress in human medicine would have been possible without a 
high quality genetic map.  The map being produced by the dog 
genome project will catalyze a similar explosion in veterinary 
medicine and will allow more effective breeding practices to 
eliminate many genetic diseases from breeds currently afflicted. 
It is important to keep in mind that a genetic map grows in 
utility as more people contribute to it and benefit from it.  
Therefore it is the practice of the dog genome project to make 
all research results available to the scientific community well 
prior to traditional publication through electronic publication 
on the World-Wide Web. 

The Dog Genome Project can be found at:

Mellissa Marie Curie DeMille	and Stella the paint BC
mellissa at mendel.berkeley.edu
510 525 5065

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