ICB is proud to announce a new program for breeders, the ICB Genetic Management Workshops. Now for the first time, breeders can get a scientific assessment of the genetic status of their breed as well as professional guidance in setting up a breeding program aimed at improving the health of their dogs.
The Workshops will partner breeders with veterinary and population geneticists to do a detailed assessment of the genetic health their breed using both DNA and pedigree information. Then the scientists will work with the breeders to design a breeding program that will address the genetic issues and provide a foundation for sustainably breeding healthy dogs into the future.
The mission of ICB since it was founded in 2012 is to provide purebred dog breeders with the tools and information they need to make breeding decisions that will improve the health of dogs. Breeders will have unparalleled access to guidance from world experts in canine genetics, as well as the tools and expertise of conservation geneticists.
The ICB Genetic Management Workshops will be ICB's flagship program and the first of its kind. In these Workshops, breeders and scientists will sit down together, evaluate the genetic status of the breed, diagnose the problems, and come up with breeding strategies and recommendations that will improve health. The goal will be to provide a plan that is feasible for breeders to follow and which will have short- and long-term outcomes for health improvement. Genetic assessment of a breed and development of breeding strategies will use the the new ICB Breeder Tool. It will provide breeders with a detailed assessment of the genetic health and issues of their breed and the information they need for making the best possible breeding decisions going forward.
Genetic Assessment from DNA
The genetic assessment of the breed will use DNA genotyping and mutation testing information. The current commercial provider of suitable data is Embark Vet, which uses a state-of-the-art, high-density Illumina SNP analysis with more than 200,000 markers distributed over the entire genome, including all 38 autosomes, the sex chromosomes, and mitochondrial DNA. This is the same platform used by canine genetics research laboratories worldwide and provides the most comprehensive and detailed analysis available. Because this platform is so widely used, marker data produced by research laboratories can be added to our databases to increase our sample size and the breadth of the gene pool represented.
Genetic and Demographic Assessment From Pedigree Data
Assessment of the genetic status of the breed should ideally include a pedigree database, which provides information about the genetic history of the breed, founder dogs, bottlenecks, changes in population size. Information from the DNA analyses can be used to verify pedigree relationships. In the absence of a useable pedigree database (e.g., because of errors, missing data), the DNA can be used to establish the genetic relationships of the current dogs, which will provide the information needed by breeders for genetic management going forward.
A good pedigree database, or genealogy reconstructed from DNA data, can be used to locate the genes causing a genetic issue without needing to identify the specific genes responsible. This is especially valuable for complex and polygenic disorders for which it would be difficult and expensive to identify the causative alleles (e.g., cancer, epilepsy). A pedigree database also provides the foundation for estimated breeding values (EBVs), which substantially improve the efficiency of selection.
The problems faced by breeders struggling to manage genetic disorders are complex. If they could be solved using simple solutions, breeders would have solved them long ago. In fact, the best efforts of dedicated breeders have not been enough to make progress against the especially difficult problems like cancer and epilepsy.
We now have tools that can provide the detailed genetic information about a breed that is necessary to design a strategy for genetic management and improved health. We are coupling these tools with PhD professionals from around the world that have expertise in the disciplines relevant to addressing the problems at hand: veterinary genetics, population genetics, canine husbandry, physiology, and behavior.
The Breed Workshops are not courses, although the participants will surely learn a lot. Our overriding goal is to solve problems and provide breeders with the guidance necessary to work towards healthier dogs when planning their very next litter.
The Breeder Workshops involve a partnership with a shared commitment from both the ICB team that is working with the breeders, as well as from the breeders, who need to be willing to commit to implementing the plan produced by the workshop. If breeders cannot make a commitment to implement the strategies they have developed with the assistance of the scientific team, we will not accept them for a workshop. We want to see RESULTS that make a significant difference in the health and welfare of dogs.
For this reason, we have some basic requirements before we will agree to run a workshop for a breed. Any plan will require the breeding of dogs, so we must have sufficient breeders involved to support this. We will also need to know that the puppies produced can be placed in homes that will properly care for them and retain them until they can be bred if they are suitable. This will probably require many non-breeder participants. People that have left breeds because of their health issues might be ideal for raising puppies produced in the program.
The minimum involvement for a workshop is 50 participants with a fee of $200 ea. These can be breeders as well as non-breeders who wish to support the effort. For large breeds, it will take a substantial commitment by breeders to make a meaningful improvement in the genetics of the breed. A few enthusiastic breeders cannot make a significant difference. This will need to be a substantial, collaborative effort with a long-term commitment. With proper planning and scientific support, the breeding program has the greatest chance of success.
Any group of breeders can request a workshop for their breed. It would be ideal to have club support, but if that is not forthcoming we will work with a group of independent breeders that can meet the requirements for participation and commitment.
We will need the DNA genotyping results from Embark (or other sources using the Illumina canine SNP chip) for a sufficient number of dogs to be able to do meaningful analyses. For some breeds, there are data already available for anonymous dogs from research studies to provide baseline information about the breed. Participants will add to this the genotyping and mutation/trait testing information for current dogs as necessary to fill any gaps and to provide the information needed about the current breeding population of dogs. There is a table below with a current inventory of data, to which data will be added on an ongoing basis from research studies as well as dogs in the breeding population.
If we have the necessary information organized properly ahead of time, we anticipate that analysis and design of a breeding program should take 8 to 10 weeks. But we'll keep working until we're done. The final product is a breeding strategy to be implemented by workshop participants.
This will be work, for both the participants and the scientists involved. It will be a commitment of time as well as learning so that participants understand the rationale for the breeding plan and its goals. You will need enthusiasm and dedication to the project for the long term if you are truly going to make a difference.
We will need the genetic data files from analysis using the Illumina SNP chip, either from Embark or research projects using the Illumina chip. DNA analyses from the Davis genetic diversity program use microsatellites (STRs); the data are not compatible with data from other sources and lack the resolution of the SNP data. Mutation testing from MyDogDNA/Mars can be used, but their DNA genotyping data is not compatible because they use a proprietary chip. So, stick with Embark if you do any commercial DNA analyses.
We will be accepting breeds for workshops on a first-come, first-served basis. We need a commitment with payment for at least the minimum 50 participants at $200 ea to get a reserved spot on the calendar. If small breeds are unable to meet the requirement of 50 participants, please contact us to discuss whether we can design a program for the breed with fewer breeders.
DNA data already available for some breeds that can be used in analyses. We have data for most AKC breeds and at least 50 dogs of these breeds (# in parentheses):
- American Cocker Spaniel (70)
- Border Collie (50)
- Boxer (160)
- Cairn Terrier (60)
- Cavalier King Charles Spaniel (50)
- English Setter (80)
- English Springer Spaniel (50)
- German Shepherd (130)
- Golden Retriever (250)
- Irish Wolfhound (210)
- Labrador Retriever (630)
- Maltese (80)
- Miniature Schnauzer (60)
- Rottweiler (80)
- Vizsla (90)
- Yorkshire Terrier (180)
We are scheduling workshops on a first-come, first-served basis. You will need a minimum commitment of 50 participants.
Please contact us to discuss setting up a Genetic Management Workshop for your breed.
Carol Beuchat PhD
Institute of Canine Biology
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