BOSTON – Mankind’s best friend for thousands of years is ready to teach new tricks to science.
The genetic makeup of the dog – in this case a boxer named Tasha – has been deciphered and should help identify genes that make both dogs and people vulnerable to cancers, heart disease, diabetes, epilepsy, blindness, deafness and even some psychiatric disorders, scientists said Wednesday.
The work is the first virtually complete decoding of the species and illuminates the blueprint that shapes everything from the smallest Chihuahua to the biggest Great Dane.
“Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read,” quipped Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Human Genome Research Institute, crediting the late comic Groucho Marx. “We’re here to unveil the book of the dog.”
Dog DNA is already teaching several lessons about human DNA. For one thing, comparisons between DNA of dogs, humans and mice revealed elaborate controls on the activity of certain human genes active in early development, said Eric Lander, director of the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT.
The three-way comparisons also showed that some genetic features found in humans but not mice aren’t really unique to people, but also appear in dogs, he said. “The more species we look at, the more, frankly, we find that humans are not exceptional here,” Lander said.