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Thursday, July 8, 1999 Published at 18:40 GMT 19:40 UK


Champion dog leads the way

Caspians Intrepid and his owner Jackie Lorimer

The Crufts Supreme Champion has become one of the first dogs in the UK to take a new type of genetic test.

The BBC's Pallab Ghosh: "A unique opportunity to study genetics"
Caspians Intrepid, an Irish setter, was screened for an abnormal gene that can lead to a disease called Clad.

Dog lovers will be pleased to hear JJ, as his owner Jackie Lorimer affectionately calls him, has been given the all clear. The animal can now be used for breeding, safe in the knowledge that his pups will be free from this particular problem.

[ image: Genetic screening should help both humans and dogs]
Genetic screening should help both humans and dogs
The test is just one of many that scientists hope to develop in the next five years. The Dog Genome Project, involving a number of scientists around the world, is attempting to map all of the genes that give rise to nearly 400 inherited canine diseases. These typically include hip and eye problems, arthritis and behavioural problems.

Safe breeding

The Clad test was developed at the Animal Health Trust in Newmarket.

[ image: Some breeds are particular susceptible to hip or eye problems]
Some breeds are particular susceptible to hip or eye problems
"As more and more tests come on stream, the dog breeding community will use those tests to breed genetically healthier offspring," said Professor Geoff Sampson from the Suffolk charity.

"So when people buy a pet puppy, for example, people will have a much better idea of what to ask - whether the parents have been tested for a particular disease."

There are something like 150 recognised dog breeds. Scientists believe the animals offer a unique opportunity to study genetics. Selective breeding has created breeds with astonishing breed-specific differences. This makes it much easier to spot the markers for disease.

Isolated populations

"Because dogs are so highly inbred, their genetic material doesn't vary as much as the general human population, " says researcher Matthew Binns. "Given that we're looking for the specific differences that underlie these diseases, it is much easier to find those differences if you have a uniform background against which you can see them - inbreeding gives us that.

"This equates quite closely to isolated human populations that have been fantastically valuable for human genetic studies investigating heart disease and high blood pressure."

BBC's Jane Hughes tucks into the new anti-depressant crips
Many human inherited diseases also afflict dogs. Veterinary science has borrowed heavily from the Human Genome Project as a result. But the researchers working on the dog genome hope the exchange of information will soon become more of a two way process.

Already, a comparison has been made of breast cancer genes in dogs and humans.

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