The Global Dog Project
The goal of the Global Dog Database Project is to create a central, permanent, and freely accessible database of the pedigree, genomic, and phenotype information of every registered purebred dog. This is an international, cooperative effort that will bring together information that is presently scattered among kennel clubs, registries, laboratories, and breeders around the world. Once assembled, anyone will be able to trace the entire history of a breed from founders to present day dogs.
Purebred dogs are increasingly afflicted with genetic disorders that negatively affect health, lifespan, behavior, and the ability to lead a full, happy life. The technology to explore the causes of disease at the molecular level is improving rapidly, and because the canine genome has become an excellent model in which to study the basis of many human diseases, the current interest in canine genetics will continue to increase.
Locating the genes that underlie genetic disorders in dogs can identify cause and function, but this doesn’t eliminate the deleterious consequences to health. Breeders use test information to minimize the risk of producing affected offspring, but as the number of genetic disorders increase, the breeding options diminish. As breeders select away from unwanted genes, the genetic diversity of the gene pool declines, which increases the probability that other deleterious genes will begin to be a problem. In a way, the best efforts of breeders to minimize the health risks of the puppies they produce by testing and careful selection only continue to make matters worse over the long term.
The solution to this problem is to improve the genetic health of the dog. In some cases, this can be done by locating isolated populations, perhaps in another kennel or even another country, that contain unique genes that can be reintroduced into the larger breeding population. It might be accomplished by bringing dogs together from field and bench lines that have been genetically separated for perhaps generations. In the most desperate situations, where extinction of a breed is possible, outcrossing to another breed can be the only option left to save a breed.
To make the best possible breeding choices, breeders need information about the genetic structure of their breed. Producing this information requires a pedigree database that is as complete as possible back to founders, but for the majority of breeds this is not available. The single most important tool needed by breeders to improve the genetic health of their dogs – a complete pedigree – is not available.
Obviously, this mission is enormous. There are hundreds of dog breeds, many of which will have millions of dogs in their history. To start this project, we have opted to begin with breeds that are relatively small, relatively recent (in terms of being a registered breed), and which have a good network of breeders who will be able to cooperate in the construction of the database. Each breed has a volunteer coordinator who will serve as the contact person for that breed and will oversee the process. The breeders themselves have a better chance than an outsider of negotiating with breed clubs and other breeders for access to records they might maintain. Our hope is that Kennel clubs will recognize the value of this resource as it develops and be willing to cooperate. In the interest of making progress quickly, we are taking a grass roots approach and breeders themselves are crowd-sourcing the information.
Where will we put the data?
Creating a database of this size and making it accessible to anyone in the world will require substantial computer resources, both hardware and software, and the personnel to manage it all. Starting from scratch, setting this up would take months or even years. Instead, we are working with ISIS, the International Species Information System, which has for decades maintained the global database of managed animal populations in zoos, captive programs, and wildlife reserves, as well as endangered species in conservation programs both in captivity and in the wild. Their existing infrastructure is already well-suited to our needs, and they have the computer, scientific, and administrative expertise needed to support it. ISIS is a non-profit organization, and we envision that funding to support them as hosts could come from annual subscription fees from kennel clubs, breed clubs, and other types of canine organizations, as well as fee-for-service options available to breeders for particular personalized analyses. Grant support, charitable contributions, and other sources of funding will also be explored.
What will we do with the data?
There are obvious benefits to having a single, comprehensive database of pedigree information that will allow breeders and researchers to trace the lineage of any dog of interest. But the real value of this resource is that it will enable for the first time genetic analyses that can unlock a trove of information that would otherwise not be available to either breeders or researchers. I have discussed examples of some of these in previous blog posts, and the availability for the first time of a database like this will open the door to many more.
Most breeders have neither the computing resources nor the expertise to do much beyond simple pedigree analysis. Therefore, we have gathered together a group of population geneticists that have the expertise to assist in analysis and interpretation of genetic data for breeders. This team includes some world-class experts in population and conservation genetics, with expertise not only in the analysis of canine pedigrees, but also in genetic management of captive populations and the design of breeding programs to restore and manage genetic diversity. (see above)
Their goal will be to extract the data describing the genetic structure of the breed (things like actual and potential genetic diversity, effective population size, effective number of founders, coefficient of inbreeding, and kinship). This standard information for each breed will be available to breeders online and updated regularly. Additional analyses can be provided as appropriate such as the genetically most valuable animals in a population, estimated breeding values that incorporate information about many different traits, and cluster analysis to identify genetically-similar groups of animals.
We are working with staff from ISIS to provide a customized interface suitable for entry and management of the data for dogs. Volunteers have begun the process of compiling the pedigree databases for more than 20 breeds. We have assembed a team of population geneticists that will assist with the population genetics analyses and work with breeders to provide additional information and analyses as necessary to address the problems of particular breeds. We also have members of the fancy who can assist in educating breeders about breeding strategies to minimize genetic problems and leverage information from the databases.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Volunteer to coordinate the collection of data for your own breed.
Global Pedigree Project
Global Genomics Project
Global Genomics Project