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First-of-its-kind study reveals genetic traits determining coat colors and physical appearance in over 200 dog breeds

VANCOUVER, Wash., Nov. 4, 2019 /PRNewswire/ -- Wisdom Health - the world's leader in pet genetics and researchers at Purdue University today announced the most comprehensive study of dog coat color and physical trait genes ever conducted is published in PLOS ONE. The study "True Colors: commercially-acquired morphological genotypes reveal hidden allele variation among dog breeds, informing both trait ancestry and breed potential" found that many dog breeds carry gene variants for unexpected physical traits such as coat colors, which could randomly appear in future generations.

Thanks to the increasing popularity of at-home pet genetic testing, researchers utilized Wisdom Health's extensive database to provide insight into the physical trait variation of nearly 12,000 purebred dogs from 212 breeds, along with four wild canine species.

"As our study demonstrates, purebred dogs have so much more than meets the eye - literally. The information provided by a WISDOM PANEL dog DNA test can help us better understand the hidden elements of dog genetics," said Dr. Angela Hughes DVM PhD, veterinarian and canine genetics expert at Wisdom Health. "While our study focused primarily on purebred populations, these hidden traits can also have ramifications for mixed breed dogs. When unexpected or hidden traits are passed to mixed breed dogs from their purebred ancestors, it further complicates the already difficult task of visual breed identification making DNA tests the only reliable method of determining breed ancestry."

The study also found that the frequency of hidden gene variants in purebred dogs could provide information about the history and relatedness of certain seemingly disparate breeds - such as the Australian Shepherd and the Airedale Terrier.

"We used previously-identified genetic links between breeds to map a potential route of gene variant dispersal, such as the tailless gene variant that exists in both the Australian Shepherd and Airedale Terrier," said Dr. Kari Ekenstedt DVM PhD, assistant professor and dog genetics researcher at Purdue University's College of Veterinary Medicine. "Through genetic relationship analysis of purebred populations, we can examine the distribution of specific coat color and trait variations and help estimate a time frame for when these variations first came about. For instance, the presence of a particular allele in a wide variety of dog breeds suggests that the variant existed within domestic dogs well before pure breed development roughly 200 years ago."

Most important for future research, the study provides a baseline of trait frequency data for a given population of purebred dogs. Based on these findings, breeders can utilize DNA panel testing to identify their desired traits and avoid expression of undesirable traits in future litters.

"In many cases, the frequency of undesirable trait variants within a breed is very low. But the genetic potential to produce those traits exists, and knowing this potential can help breeders and breed organizations make informed decisions going forward," said Dr. Dayna Dreger PhD, the lead author on the PLOS ONE publication.

Wisdom Health has also simultaneously crossed another major milestone within the pet genetics industry: as of today, more than 1.5 million dogs worldwide have been tested with the WISDOM PANEL test.

"This study reveals the power of genetic testing to uncover the hidden stories of breed relationships and trait distribution across the globe," said Dr. Becca Chodroff Foran PhD, Research & Development Director at Wisdom Health. "With 1.5 million dogs tested with WISDOM PANEL and counting, our research program continues to invest in the development and discovery of actionable genetic insights to better understand and care for our beloved pets."            

About the Study

  • The study examined WISDOM PANEL test data from nearly 12,000 dogs, representing 212 breeds and four wild canine species.
  • All dogs in the study were evaluated at genes associated with seven coat color traits, including ASIP and MC1R, and five physical characteristics including natural taillessness and hair length.
  • A sub-set of 30 breeds was then divided into breed-specific subpopulations based on factors such as country of origin, body size and coat variation. Significant differences were found in 26 of the 30 breeds for at least one of the tested genes, demonstrating biases in the populations due to geographic separation or breeding practices followed among certain dog breed sub-groups.
  • Standard breed descriptions from major American and international registries were used to determine colors and tail lengths (e.g. genetic bobtail) accepted within each breed. Gene variants that could produce traits different from the breed descriptions were observed in 143 breeds.
  • The presence of rare genetic variants within breeds, such as those for the recessive black coloration and natural bobtail, was combined with previously published inter-breed relationship studies to suggest likely pathways by which these variants may have spread throughout the various dog breeds.

About Wisdom Health
Wisdom Health's mission is to facilitate responsible pet care by enhancing the well-being and relationship between pets, pet owners, breeders, shelters and veterinarians through valuable insights into pets as individuals. For more than a decade, Wisdom Health has researched and developed state-of-the-art genetic tests for companion animals, revolutionizing personalized pet care. By unlocking the secrets of their dog or cat's DNA, owners and veterinarians can work together to tailor wellness programs that fit the one-of-a-kind needs of their unique pet. For more information, visit http://www.wisdompanel.com, or follow Wisdom Panel on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

About Kinship
Advances in science, technology, health and nutrition offer an opportunity to transform the $100B+ pet care industry. With industry-leading data and analytics capabilities, a $100M venture fund and pioneering startup accelerator program, unique set of technology businesses like Whistle and Wisdom Health, Kinship is building the first-of-its-kind coalition of partners to transform the future of pet care. Kinship is a business division of Mars Petcare, the global leader in pet health, nutrition and services, dedicated to one purpose: A Better World for Pets.  Follow @kinshipco to learn more.

About Mars Petcare
Part of Mars, Incorporated, a family-owned business with more than a century of history making diverse products and offering services for people and the pets people love, the 85,000 Associates in Mars Petcare are dedicated to one purpose: A BETTER WORLD FOR PETS. With 75 years of experience, our portfolio of almost 50 brands serves the health and nutrition needs of the world's pets – including brands PEDIGREE®, WHISKAS®, ROYAL CANIN®, NUTRO™, GREENIES™, SHEBA®, CESAR®, IAMS™ and EUKANUBA™ as well as The WALTHAM Centre for Pet Nutrition which has advanced research in the nutrition and health of pets for over 50 years. Mars Petcare is also a leading veterinary health provider through a network of over 2,000 pet hospitals including BANFIELD™, BLUEPEARL™, PET PARTNERS™, VCA™, Linnaeus and AniCura. We're also active in innovation and technology for pets, with WISDOM PANEL™ genetic health screening and DNA testing for dogs, the WHISTLE™ GPS dog tracker, and LEAP VENTURE STUDIO accelerator and COMPANION FUND™ programs that drive innovation and disruption in the pet care industry. As a family business and guided by our principles, we are privileged with the flexibility to fight for what we believe in – and we choose to fight for: A BETTER WORLD FOR PETS.

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SOURCE Wisdom Health