It’s finally here – a use for dog drool. Later this spring, a new startup company, Embark, is planning to launch a canine DNA testing kit that will give insight into the dog’s ancestry and his risk for genetic diseases. I know what you’re thinking, this isn’t any different than all the other doggy DNA tests on the market, but there’s more.
The founders of Embark are also hoping they can enlist the help of man’s best friend in finding out some more information about common human diseases. The Embark kit works like any other DNA test for dogs. You swab your pup’s cheek, place the sample in the sealed container provided and mail it in to be tested.
Not only will the test be able to track your pup’s ancestry on a global level, it will also look for genetic variants associated with more than 100 diseases. The owner will be notified if the dog has a higher than average chance of developing one of these illnesses. It can also tell you if your dog is likely to pass these diseases on to their puppies.
This could be extremely valuable information to responsible breeders. Many canine diseases are genetic and many of those are adult onset diseases that don’t show up until later in life.
The female being bred may not have shown signs of the disease yet. If the breeder does not know that she is genetically predisposed to the condition, the dame may pass the condition on to the pups and no one will know for years to come.
The real object of this startup is the research that will be done with the dog drool. Embark will use the DNA samples sent in by pet owners to look for advancements in human health. It sounds crazy, but it’s actually pretty interesting.
Because dogs and humans suffer from many of the same conditions, studying canine genetics may help researchers figure out how these conditions originate in humans.
Ryan Boyko, one of the company’s co-founders and a computer scientist, says that this platform will engage a large number of dog owners and provide the company with data that could allow researchers to unlock the potential of the canine as a model system. He says that they realized that it would be a lot easier to fund the research if the participants, or in this case the participants owners, paid to take part in the study.
Ryan’s brother, Adam Boyko, is the chief science officer at Embark and also a dog geneticist at Cornell University. The company will conduct their own research under his guidance, and Cornell University School of Veterinary Medicine has already agreed to be a research partner for Embark as well. Gaining insights into human health by examining dogs isn’t a new idea, but science has been more focused on using mice and rats.
The founders of Embark are hoping that as DNA research becomes less expensive and faster, the dog model of human health will make a comeback – at least for identifying mutations involved in numerous diseases. Don’t think that Embark is trying to dupe its customers into paying for their research. If you choose to purchase one of their canine DNA kits, you’ll still learn a lot about your dog.
You won’t get a report on the breeds that make up your dog. Ryan Boyko says that the failure rates with tests like that are very high, and Embark doesn’t want to get thrown into that category. Instead, you’ll get a detailed report of your dog’s ancestry.
You’ll get an explanation of your dog’s evolution and migrations. Embark will also attempt to trace your dog’s exact ancestry. In layman’s terms, Embark will tell you how your dog went from a wolf 15,000 years ago to the domesticated canine that he is now.