Dog DNA Helps Researchers Fight a Terminal Disease

Once the disease gene is identified, researchers can develop a test that would enable breeders to screen dogs prior to breeding to prevent generating affected dogs in the future.

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Tibetan Terriers are contributing to an extensive canine DNA bank in an ongoing research program at the University of Missouri-Columbia that studies the genetic basis of diseases that affect both dogs and humans.

Tibetan Terriers can become stricken with a neurological disease called neuronal ceroid lipofuscinosis (NCL), which has a human equivalent called Batten Disease.

Neurological diseases are inherited disorders that have no cure.

Under the program, DNA of affected and non-affected Tibetan Terriers is compared to the normal canine genome. By comparing the different genomes, researchers can pinpoint the NCL mutation gene.

The organization of genes in a genome is like the organization of books in a library, said Martin Katz, a professor of ophthalmology with dual appointments at the universitys school of medicine and college of veterinary medicine. Genes are arranged in a specific order on a number of different chromosomes, much like books are placed in specific orders on specific shelves in a library. Determining the precise location of a disease-causing mutation within the genome will identify the disease gene, just as going to a specific location on a specific shelf in a library will result in a particular book being located.

Once the disease gene is identified, researchers can develop a test that would enable breeders to screen dogs prior to breeding to prevent generating affected dogs in the future, according to the university.

Identification of the Tibetan Terrier NCL mutation will also make it possible to determine whether any humans with NCL have mutations in the corresponding human gene, Katz said.

Posted Nov. 8, 2005, 3 p.m. PST

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