I have previously described concerns about the lack of validation of genetic tests to refute the pedigree registration status of purebred dogs. As several courts have held, genetic testing is currently not dispositive of pedigree registration status. See, e.g., Sandra Shines v. Furry Babies Stratford Square, Inc., No. 13-3592, slip op. at 9 (Ill. 18th Jud. Cir. Jan. 22, 2014) (finding DNA test results unreliable to support plaintiff’s claim that the Cocker spaniel in dispute was a mixed breed).
It looks like I am not the only veterinarian concerned about the injudicious use of genetic testing in animals. As other veterinarians and scientists recently discussed in Nature’s “Pet genomics medicine runs wild:”
Genetic testing for dogs is big business. It is too easy for companies to sell false hope, warn Lisa Moses, Steve Niemi and Elinor Karlsson. They call for regulation.
These authors identify the following deficiencies in animal genetic testing:
- Weak science
- Lack of validation
- Imprecise results or interpretation
- Conflicts of interest
They propose the following logical five-step plan to help insure that genetic testing provides animal owners with validated, science-based and valuable information about their pets.
- Establish standards
- Create guidelines
- Share data
- Recruit tools and expertise
- Education counsellors
The International Partnership for Dogs (IPFD) a partnership of national kennel clubs, industry and non-profit organizations, whose mission (described here) “is to facilitate collaboration and sharing of resources to enhance the health, well-being and welfare of pedigreed dogs and all dogs worldwide” congratulated the authors on their commentary and noted that to their own initiative – the Harmonization of Genetic Testing for Dogs (HGTD) – was engaged in the development of oversight of these tools and emphasized “the phenomenal potential for genetic testing to support health, well-being and welfare in dogs, as well as aspects of human-dog interactions.”
The goal of HGTD is reportedly to improve standardization of, and access to, robust genetic testing to support health improvements and a sustainable future for healthy dogs.
The use of genetic tests to assist animal breeders in selecting for desired traits is nothing new.
For example, in 2006, USDA’s Agricultural Research Service was studying the use of genetic tests for “beefing” up cattle breeding programs, as reported on USDA’s website. Even before that, as early as 1998, geneticists, including Mark F. Allan was researching the “genetic regions linking to the twinning trait” in cattle.
Marker-assisted selection will allow breeders to increase the speed and accuracy of traditional assessment methods, but its advantages extend beyond the seedstock industry. Commercial cattle producers would be able to purchase bulls with superior genetics. The desirable characteristics in the livestock would ultimately translate into better products for consumers.
Genetic testing, when used judiciously, has helped animal and human health officials understand the spread of pathogens, such as avian influenza, so that measures can be implemented to prevent or mitigate such spread.
Undoubtedly, the use of genetic testing will continue to advance, and provide benefits to both animals and humans invested in their care.