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Tag: genetic

Great Dane helps girl find her balance

Fifth grader Bella Burton has gained both confidence and mobility since a service dog came into her life last year — a dog that outweighs her three to one.

George, a Great Dane who tips the scales at 131, was paired with Bella through the Service Dog Project, an Ipswich, Mass.-based non-profit organization that trains and matches Great Danes with people who have mobility and balance limitations.

Bella, who turned 11 last week, has a rare genetic disorder called Morquio Syndrome, or Mucopolysaccharidoses (MPS) IV.

“She used to pretty much be confined to a wheelchair or have to use crutches to get around, but with George, she’s become so much stronger and active,” said Bella’s mom, Rachel.

Since George loped into the picture late last year Bella has gone from dreading school to enjoying it.

“I couldn’t play on the playground, and I had to use crutches when I was at home,” Bella said. “Now, I’m running outside and I love to go to school.”

Bella and George were featured on ABC News last week.

Next month, George will be honored by the American Kennel Club (AKC) as one of five dogs to receive the Award for Canine Excellence, at the AKC’s national championships in Orlando, Fla.

The Burtons spent about a year trying to find Bella the right balance support dog. Once Bella met George, the two bonded almost immediately.

Last October George started staying with the Burtons on weekends. By January, George was permanently placed with the Burtons, who have two other non-service dogs.

Bella and family plan to donate the $1,000 cash prize from the AKC to the Service Dog Project.

“Between the training and adoption fees, it probably costs around $20,000,” Rachel said. “They didn’t want a dime when they placed George with us.”

China creates “Super Dog” via gene editing

editeddogsFirst, scientists in South Korea brought us dog cloning — a chance, or so it was initially described, to use cells from your sick, dying or even dead dog to create the exact same dog again, in healthy puppy form.

It was a bad idea.

Now, scientists in China are hard at work on an equally worrisome one.

Chinese researchers report they have created a beagle with double the amount of muscle mass, through a process called “gene editing.”

Gene editing involves injecting embryos with a DNA snipping enzyme, Cas9, and a guide molecule that zeroes in on a particular stretch of DNA. The goal is to knock out the myostatin gene so a dog’s body can not produce any of the muscle-inhibiting protein that the gene manufactures.

The result, as they see it, is a Super Dog — useful to the police and military.

This is hardly the first time man has manipulated the species. We’ve been doing it for centuries by inbreeding them to create dogs that, while not necessarily healthier — and sometimes quite the opposite — better suit our needs and please our eyes.

But gene editing is, right up there with cloning, one of the more blatant, creepy and invasive routes man has taken.

And it prompts us to say, with more emotion than a scientist can probably understand: Dogs are already super, China. So leave them the hell alone.

To create one “super beagle,” the researchers injected more than 60 dog embryos. Less than half survived to birth. Of 27 puppies born, only two had the sought after disruption in their myostatin genes.

And in only one was the gene editing considered “complete,” said Liangxue Lai, a researcher at the Key Laboratory of Regenerative Biology at the Guangzhou Institutes of Biomedicine and Health.

Custom made, genetically engineered dogs will have “more muscles and are expected to have stronger running ability, which is good for hunting, police (military) applications,” Lai is quoted as saying in the MIT Technology Review

Lai and 28 colleagues reported their results last week in the Journal of Molecular Cell Biology, saying they intend to create dogs with other DNA mutations, including ones that mimic human diseases such as Parkinson’s and muscular dystrophy to be used in biomedical research.

South Korea’s dog cloners, in addition to cloning dogs for bereaved pet owners, are also creating dogs for the police and military, and dogs with diseases for research purposes.

Lai said his group had no plans breed to breed the extra-muscular beagles as pets. But, as the Review article points out, that wouldn’t stop others from moving to commercialize the gene-editing process.

A different Chinese Institute, BGI, said in September it had begun selling miniature pigs, created via gene editing, for $1,600 each as novelty pets.

And if gene editing follows the path of dog cloning, now available to dog owners for $100,000, its transition to marketplace will be swift an unregulated.

In addition to pigs, goats, rabbits, rats and monkeys have been engineered using gene editing in China, which considers the efforts a national scientific priority — much like South Korea did with dog cloning.

Lai’s team says the sole male dog they successfully produced, named Hercules, would pass the myostatin mutation on if he were to be bred.

“The favorable traits that result from gene editing can pass generation by generation,” says Lai.

“Favorable,” in this case, meaning what the researchers hoped for.

For the 33 embryos that didn’t survive, and perhaps for those that did, we’d hardly consider it favorable, or even necessary.

No dog lover should.

Edit your papers, scientists — not our dogs.

(Photo: Hercules, at left, and Tiangou, the world’s first gene-edited dogs, from MIT Technology Review)

“Pedigree Dogs Exposed” gets first U.S. airing

“Pedigree Dogs Exposed, ” the controversial BBC documentary that shed some much needed light on purebred breeding practices and the horrors they have produced, will get its first airing in the U.S. tonight (Dec. 10).

Probably the single most important piece of dog reporting in the past decade, the documentary led to the BBC dropping its coverage of Crufts, the UK’s equivalent of the Westminster Dog Show.

The documentary looks at how many breeds have had their physical appearance so exaggerated they’re unrecognizable from a century ago, and it examines some of the breed-specific health problems that have resulted from breeders emphasizing looks over health when breeding dogs for shows.

The show, which led to some changes in Kennel Club and breeder policies and practices,  airs at 8 p.m. tonight on BBC America.

The documentary revealed that dogs suffering from genetic illness are not prevented from competing in dog shows and have gone on to win “best in breed”, despite their poor health. It says physical traits required by the Kennel Club’s breed standards in the U.K., such as short faces, wrinkling, screw-tails and dwarfism, have led to inherent health problems.

This excerpt from the program shows a prize-winning cavalier King Charles spaniel suffering from syringomyelia, a condition which occurs when a dog’s skull is too small for its brain.

The documentary looks at other problems that have resulted from mating dogs who are close relatives, all for the purposes of accentuating certain physical features deemed desirable by the dog show crowd — boxers suffering from epilepsy, pugs with breathing problems and bulldogs who are unable to mate or give birth unassisted because their heads are so big.

While picked up here and there by the U.S. media, the story of shaping purebred dogs to fit arbitrary human standards of beauty — despite the health ramifications – remains best told by the BBC documentary. By all means, watch it.

DNA testing saves dog from execution

petdnaIt took a DNA test to prove it, but Angie Cartwright — who lives in a town that bans pit bulls — has certified that her dog Lucey is only 12 percent bully breeds, and now she has her back.

Lucey had never bitten anyone; nor had she ever acted aggressively, according to the Salina Journal in Kansas. But she was scooped up by animal control officers.

The officers explained that they were taking Lucey to a veterinarian for a breed check — a professional opinion (meaning veterinarian’s guess) to determine Lucey’s breed.

Since 2005, Salina has had a ban on owning unregistered pit bulls and mixed breeds that are predominantly pit bull.

Cartwright got approval to have her vet conduct DNA breed analysis test, ther results of which led to the return of her dog.

The blood test found that a minor amount of Lucey’s DNA came from Staffordshire bull terrier genes — just over 12 percent.

“Maybe this can save someone’s animal, hopefully,” Cartwright said. Read more »

Support seems thin for dumping Westminster

PETA’s suggestion that the USA Network discontinue its broadcast of the Westminster Dog Show — on the grounds that the show reinforces unhealthy breed standards — doesn’t seem to be garnering a lot of pubic support, if a poll by the Los Angeles Times animal blog, “Unleashed,” is any indication.

PETA’s request came on the heels of the BBC’s announcement that it won’t be airing the prestigious Crufts dog show because of concerns that purebred breeders, in their quest to meet dog show appearance standards, are endangering the health of some breeds.

Unleashed puts this question to readers: “Do you agree with PETA that the USA Network should refrain from airing Westminster?

“Yes — breeding dogs for the show ring is unethical and shouldn’t be supported.

“No — dog breeders promote responsible pet ownership and dog shows are fun to watch.”

As of 7:30 last night, the “No” votes held a 4,682 to 356 lead.

To see the comments, and vote, click here.

(Image: Commemorative poster for the Feb. 9-10, 2009 Westminster Dog Show)

UK Kennel Club to review breed standards

After first defending the practices of its members, Britain’s Kennel Club has announced that every pedigree breed in the United Kingdom will be reviewed to make sure that pressures to produce perfect show dogs don’t contribute to widespread genetic diseases.

The turnaround comes after a public outcry that followed a BBC documentary claiming the breeding process for pedigree dogs has resulted in a high incidence of inherited genetic disease.

A breed health plan will be coordinated for some 200 pedigree breeds, and dog show judges will be briefed on the new breed standards so healthy dogs are rewarded in the ring, the Kennel Club announced.

The BBC documentary, “Pedigree Dogs Exposed,” spotlighted several breeds in which breeders have, through inbreeding, emphasized physical traits over the health of the animals, leading to problems that include cancer, epilepsy, heart disease and difficulty breathing

The Kennel Club released the first of a new set of breeding standards today — for Pekingese dogs, which critics say have bred to have increasingly flatter faces, which has led to breathing problems.

Health plans for all 200 or so breeds are to be completed by early next year.

“We have been listening and agree with the general public’s view that more needs to be done,” said Kennel Club Secretary Caroline Kisko. She said public attention helped the club “drive through, with added urgency, new and extended initiatives that will help to safeguard the health of our pedigree dogs.”

“We have been working hard in recent years to identify and address health problems that exist in dogs, and we are taking advantage of the opportunities that advances in science have given us to improve dog health. We look forward to continuing our work with various institutions and organisations that share the same objective: to protect the health and welfare of all dogs,” she said.”

The Kennel Club initially defended breeders, after the BBC report, and filed a complaint about the documentary. Animal welfare organizations, however, echoed the concerns raised in the documentary, and several, including the Dogs Trust, RSPCA and National Dog Wardens Association announced they were pulling out of the country’s largest dog show, Crufts.

Jemima Harrison of Passionate Productions, makers of the “Pedigree Dogs Exposed” documentary, said she was “delighted” with the new initiatives. “…The real winners are the dogs. Getting a better deal for them was always the film’s primary objective.

She questioned, however, whether the intitiatives go far enough.

“I am very disappointed that the Kennel Club has not acted immediately to ban the mating of first-degree relatives but, for the first time, there is mention of the importance of genetic diversity, which is hugely encouraging. There are going to be howls of protest from some breed clubs and it remains to be seen how much genuine change will result.”

Amid the controversy, some praise for mutts

    Roy Hattersley sang the praises of mutts this week, as controversy continued to simmer over purebred breeding practices and dog shows that put a higher premium on “beauty” and “conformation” than they do on canine health.
    This week saw the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals pull out of Crufts, the world’s largest dog show, due to concerns about health problems in pedigree dogs and the role Crufts plays in perpetuating those problems.
    Meanwhile, the Kennel Club filed a complaint against the BBC, calling the documentary that led in part to the RSPCA withdrawal, unfair.
    The multi-part report, “Pedigree Dogs Exposed” looked at the health problems experienced by certain breeds as a result of breeders striving to accentuate certain physical traits.

The documentary featured boxers with epilepsy, pugs with breathing problems and bulldogs that were unable to mate and — because of breeders striving for broader heads in the breed — unable to be born without Caesarian section.

A preview of the program can be found here. The entire series can be found on YouTube.

Here’s some of what Hattersley — politician, author, journalist and former member of Parliament — wrote:

“It is barbarous to breed a dog with a brain too big for its skull just to make it look right when it is walked around the competition ring. But the idea of breeding the perfect specimen is wrong in itself. Dogs should be loved as dogs, whatever their shape and size.

“Dogs were made to be friends not exhibits, status symbols or “positional goods” that demonstrate their owner’s aesthetic sensibilities, status, income or fastidious good taste. I am for mongrels because they proclaim the glory of just being dogs – not heads set at the right angles, legs of the proper length or ears suitably pricked. Mongrels are the essence of dog – dog as a virtue in itself … I believe that being a dog is – or ought to be – enough.

Hattersley is the author of many books, including “Buster’s Diaries,” in which his dog Buster defends  killing a goose in one of London’s royal Parks. In 1996 Hattersley was was fined in connection with the goose death.

His full essay can be found in the London Times.