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VANCOUVER, Wash., June 30, 2020 /PRNewswire/ -- Wisdom Health Genetics, the world's leader in pet genetics and makers of the WISDOM PANEL™ dog DNA tests, announced today the publication in Canine Medicine and Genetics of a study conducted in collaboration with the University of Eastern Finland.

The study, Variation in breeding practices and geographic isolation drive subpopulation differentiation, contributing to the loss of genetic diversity within dog breed lineages, describes genetic subpopulation differentiation and related loss of genetic diversity discovered in six dog breeds: the Belgian Shepherd, English Greyhound, Finnish Lapphund, Italian Greyhound, Labrador Retriever, and Shetland Sheepdog.

Researchers examined the six popular dog breeds based on differential breeding strategies -- such as breeding for characteristics desired in 'sporting' compared to 'show' lines -- and geography using genotype analysis, finding that each of the breeds showed subpopulation differentiation contributing to a lack of genetic diversity.

For the Italian Greyhound and Shetland Sheepdog, the differentiation could be attributed to the founder effect -- or the reduction in genetic diversity caused when a population descends from a small number of 'founding' ancestors, combined with geographical isolation based on continent. Breeder preferences accounted for the genetic structure of the remaining four breeds: the English Greyhound and Labrador Retriever breed structures were selected for either show, sport, or working lineages. Analysis of the Belgian Shepherd breed structure shed light on the genetic relationships between different subvarieties of the breed; analysis of the Finnish Lapphund revealed a relatively recent, unexpected split within that subpopulation due to breeder preference.

"These findings are yet another example of how the genetic data generated during our commercial testing at Wisdom Health Genetics can be used to gain insight into the population structure and diversity levels of breeds and their subpopulations," said Jonas Donner, PhD, Discovery Manager at Wisdom Health Genetics.

Though breed differentiation can serve important purposes, selection must be done critically and carefully to maintain healthy genetic diversity and increase gene flow between isolated populations.

"Breeding dogs to fulfill specific breed ideals, by definition, will result in a loss of variation over time; this differentiation is not generally negative. However, due to their size, many small breed populations are in danger of suffering from the accumulated effects of inbreeding depression over the generations," said study co-author Jaakko Pohjoismäki, PhD, senior researcher in genetics at the University of Eastern Finland. "Breed organizations should be more proactive in mixing the dogs between specialized lineages or closely related breeds to prevent deleterious effects of inbreeding depression."

It is essential to maintain a balance between preserving diversity within the breeds when selecting for desired characteristics; to continue responsible breeding, genetic diversity and selecting for positive health traits are central to keeping a population healthy.

"The results of this study highlight the importance of careful balancing between selection for desired traits and health, and avoiding loss of genetic diversity," said Rebecca Chodroff Foran, PhD, R&D Director at Wisdom Health Genetics. "Through our research, we aim to improve the lives of pets everywhere, and identifying opportunities to maintain genetic diversity will ultimately help create and support healthier populations."

Based on the observed loss of genetic diversity in subpopulations of the six breeds studied, the researchers recommend that breeders take steps to encourage genetic diversity, facilitating exchange of dogs across geographical borders and avoiding unnecessary artificial boundaries between lineages. 

About the Subpopulation Genetic Differentiation Study:

  • The study examined genetic differentiation in six dog breeds (Belgian Shepherd, English Greyhound, Italian Greyhound, Finnish Lapphund, Labrador Retriever, Shetland Sheepdog) using a SNP (single nucleotide polymorphism) genotyping array.
  • Researchers then observed the population structure of each group based on their use (e.g.,show dog vs. sport dog), geographical location (United States vs. Europe) and the individual dogs' morphological traits.
  • All six breeds studied showed some level of differentiation in their subpopulation, whether geographical based on continent (Italian Greyhounds, Shetland Sheepdog), selection based on use for service or dog sports (English Greyhound, Labrador Retriever), or other breeder preferences (Belgian Shepherd, Finnish Lapphund).
  • Along with geographical isolation, selection based on use, favored pure breeds, or physical traits are strong drivers of population fragmentation. Thus, the researchers recommend that breeders facilitate exchange of genetic material between countries and lineages, taking steps to diversify the genetic structure of a given population to help maintain breed health.

About Wisdom Health Genetics

The mission of the Wisdom Health business is to strengthen the bond between pets and their people through world-leading insights powered by DNA. Wisdom Panel™ dog DNA tests - backed by the WISDOM HEALTH™ scientific research - can help pet parents plan better, care smarter, and love longer. For more than a decade, Wisdom Health™ scientific research contributed to develop state-of-the-art genetic tests for companion animals, revolutionizing personalized pet care. By unlocking the secrets of their dog or cat's DNA, pet parents and veterinarians can work together to tailor wellness programs that fit the one-of-a-kind needs of their pets. Wisdom Panel™ products are recommended by veterinarians, and the tests are currently offered by 7000+ veterinarians worldwide. For more information, visit http://www.wisdompanel.com, or follow the  Wisdom Panel™ brand on Facebook and Instagram.

About Kinship Labs

Advances in science, technology, health and nutrition offer an opportunity to transform the $100B+ pet care industry. With industry-leading data and analytics capabilities, a $100M venture fund and pioneering startup accelerator program, unique set of technology businesses like Whistle Labs and Wisdom Health Genetics, Kinship Labs is building the first-of-its-kind coalition of partners to transform the future of pet care. Kinship Labs is a business division of Mars Petcare, the global leader in pet health, nutrition and services, dedicated to one purpose: A BETTER WORLD FOR PETS. Follow @kinshipco to learn more.

About Mars Petcare

Part of Mars, Incorporated, a family-owned business with more than a century of history making diverse products and offering services for people and the pets people love, the 85,000 Associates across 50+ countries in Mars Petcare are dedicated to one purpose: A BETTER WORLD FOR PETS. With 85 years of experience, our portfolio of almost 50 brands serves the health and nutrition needs of the world's pets – including brands PEDIGREE®, WHISKAS®, ROYAL CANIN®, NUTRO™, GREENIES™, SHEBA®, CESAR®, IAMS™ and EUKANUBA™ as well as the Waltham Petcare Science Institute which has advanced research in the nutrition and health of pets for over 50 years. Mars Petcare is also a leading veterinary health provider through an international network of over 2,000 pet hospitals and diagnostic services including BANFIELD™, BLUEPEARL™, VCA™, Linnaeus, AniCura and Antech. We're also active in innovation and technology for pets, with Wisdom Panel™ genetic health screening and DNA testing for dogs, the WHISTLE™ GPS dog tracker, LEAP VENTURE STUDIO accelerator and COMPANION FUND programs that drive innovation and disruption in the pet care industry. As a family business guided by our principles, we are privileged with the flexibility to fight for what we believe in – and we choose to fight for our purpose: A BETTER WORLD FOR PETS.

Media Contact:
Lesley Albert



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