KSU research helps DNA fingerprinting hit the dog track
By Christina Foust
What do greyhounds have in common with the O.J. Simpson trial? A DNA test similar to the one used during the Simpson case is now helping to identify greyhounds and determine their genetic lineage.
Brad Fenwick, professor of pathobiology at Kansas State University, leads the effort to produce a new DNA fingerprinting system to identify greyhounds and their parents. The research is sponsored by the Kansas Racing and Gaming Commission. Traditionally, racing greyhounds received tattoos in their ears to distinguish between dogs. However, these tattoos are often unreadable and easy to alter, with no guarantee that the tattoo will take in the first place. According to Fenwick, DNA avoids these problems. "DNA markers are like a fingerprint, only even more specific. You can't fool the DNA."
Though DNA fingerprint mapping has been done before on other plants and animals, the K-State research is unique because it's being done for greyhounds, mapping a specific gene area called the Major Histocompatability Complex, or MHC. Fenwick explains that the MHC makes us uniquely individual because it has the most diverse alleles and controls perhaps the most exclusive personal trait of all, immune function. "The Major Histocompatability Complex controls things such as the acceptance of organ transplants and reproductive ability," Fenwick said.
With the new gene fingerprint mapping of the Major Histocompatability Complex area complete, Fenwick says greyhounds may get their DNA catalogued rather than ear tattoos. First, veterinarians take a sample of tissue, hair or blood. "We prefer samples, because licensed veterinarians must draw the blood. It's more likely to be honest and valid," Fenwick said.
Then, veterinarians compare the pup's DNA with the "fingerprints" of its parents. One female greyhound may be bred to multiple males, producing puppies of different paternal lineage. So, veterinarians may now extract DNA samples from the parent dogs, and compare the Major Histocompatability Complex fingerprints to those of the pups. According to Fenwick, two pups with the same mother and father do not have identical fingerprints, but they are close. Through these comparisons, veterinarians may determine who the pup's father is.
The DNA fingerprint may then go on file to be used as an identification tool should any questions of the dog's legitimacy or parentage arise. DNA helps keep security in the breeding and racing community where identifying the greyhound or its parents becomes crucial for pedigree purposes.
"This test will help put more confidence in the racing world. Before, identification was just a guess. A guess could cost money and a reputation, so you don't want to guess," Fenwick explained.
The National Greyhound Association has not yet implemented the DNA fingerprinting as mandatory for all breeders and racers. Fenwick explained that many breeders currently volunteer to get their dogs, DNA fingerprinted as an additional service to clients.
The K-State research will also help greyhound breeding. Greyhounds are sought as performance dogs, making the breed susceptible to inbreeding of particular traits, such as quickness and longevity. When a population suffers too much from inbreeding, the genetic diversity deteriorates as does the immune and reproductive response of the greyhound.
According to Fenwick, the Major Histocompatability Complex gene helps determine the degree of inbreeding, which may then help breeders select appropriate mates for their dogs. "We can tell when we need to import new gene material before problems arise," Fenwick said. "It is possible to introduce a greyhound from Australia or lreland, for example, with new genes to reduce the possibility of decreased performance in future generations.
Greyhound enthusiasts currently must guess their pup's qualities based on superficial observation of parent dogs. However, the DNA fingerprinting of the Major Histocompatability Complex will help reduce the population of unwanted dogs and give racers more certainty in their champ's ability. DNA fingerprinting is winning the race to preserve the greyhound breed and save owners money and their reputations.
December 2, 1997