Doggie DNA could lead to new drugs

Dogged research by a group of scientists from Stanford medical school on how your canine's coat color is determined could lead to the eventual development of new drugs tailored to a person's individual genetic makeup.

The new study, published in the Nov. 2 issue of the journal Science, focuses of how the coat color of dogs is determined. What the researchers concluded is that the gene that determines coat color is part of a family of genes known as defensins, which have been previously thought of as microbe fighters.

“The most important observation that stems from the paper is that in trying to understand what defensins really do, we've been looking under a lamppost based on the way in which the gene family was named,'' study team leader Dr. Greg Barsh said. “In fact, we really have very little evidence that defensins do much in terms of defending. The genetic approach is more agnostic and suggests that defensins have additional or alternative functions outside the immune system.''

There are a wide variety of defensin genes, humans can have between 40 to 50 while dogs have up to 46. That large number raises the possibility that defensins can serve as a possible template for new genetically tailored drugs.

“If you think about personalized medicine and individualized treatments based on genome sequence, the very first step is asking how differences in our gene sequences affect our phenotype,'' said Barsh, a professor of genetics at Stanford School of Medicine. “As there are very few genes that show this much variation, this work suggests one place we should be looking.''

Members of Barsh's team gathered hundreds of samples of dog DNA at Bay Area dog shows as part of the study by gently swabbing the inside of the dogs' cheeks.

“It's painless for the dogs, so they don't mind. The dogs we met at dog shows were very well behaved and happy to cooperate,'' study co-author Sophie Candille said.

— Bay City News

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