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K-State veterinarian's lab site for DNA registry


You might call them "genetics central."

Veterinarian Brad Fenwick's Kansas State University laboratory will process, catalog and permanently store the DNA from approximately 8,000 racing greyhounds this year, and will continue this task every year from now into the foreseeable future.

Beginning with a two-year grant from the Kansas Racing and Gaming Commission, Fenwick and his laboratory staff evaluated various DNA-based systems used by animal registries around the world. The goal was to evaluate the state of the science and to develop the procedures and a program for consideration for implementation of a DNA genetic registration system by the National Greyhound Association in Abilene, Kan.

"The methods to reliably use DNA to determine the pedigree and to identify individual dogs have dramatically advanced in the past few years," Fenwick said. "The program that we developed closely parallels the programs used by the FBI and Kansas Bureau of Investigation for criminal investigations. In fact, we use almost the exact procedures including evidence seals and chain-of-custody tracking."

Based on Fenwick's findings and recommendations, the National Greyhound Association passed changes to their by-laws requiring that all male and female racing greyhounds that are used for breeding must have their DNA on file. Fenwick's laboratory became the repository of all the DNA samples and interacts with other laboratories that do the testing.

Fenwick said, "It was important that the laboratory that was responsible for collecting and holding the DNA, as well as interpreting the results, was not the same laboratory doing the analysis. As part of our analysis we examined a number of other laboratories and provided testing kits to verify the quality of their work. Part of our responsibility is to protect the National Greyhound Association and its members by assessing other laboratories."

The process of getting a greyhound DNA registered is quite involved and sets the standard for all animal registries, Fenwick said. Owners must complete an application, which is reviewed for accuracy by the National Greyhound Association. If the application is approved, a DNA sample collection kit is sent to their veterinarian who collects the samples and verifies the identity of the dog. The completed kit is sealed and returned by overnight carrier to Fenwick's laboratory where a team of skilled technicians completes the process.

"This is a sophisticated level of science which as a laboratory we apply in a very strict way because you never know when a case will result in a legal challenge," Fenwick said. "As has been demonstrated in police laboratories, there is no margin for error or sloppy procedures in a DNA laboratory. The credit for this goes to the laboratory technicians, who do a wonderful job."

Fenwick is assisted in the laboratory by three technicians -- Maureen Rider, Muthu Chengappa and Debra Wilcox -- and a number of students whose salaries are provided for by the program and research grants. A fourth technician will join the laboratory shortly.

Already the DNA program has been of value to the industry. DNA testing has allowed dogs to be registered when the owner was uncertain of their pedigree because two or more litters had gotten mixed up. In addition, errors in pedigrees have been identified and corrected. In a few cases, DNA testing provided the evidence necessary to remove individuals from the National Greyhound Association because they had purposefully misrepresented the pedigree or identity of a dog.

"Cases where pedigrees are misrepresented are always difficult in terms of knowing whether it was intentional or an honest mistake," Fenwick said. "The good thing is that we now have the ability to determine with absolute certainty the true pedigree and as such, maintain the genetic integrity of the greyhound breed. The program also provides people -- whether they are interested in purchasing a dog or betting on a dog in a race -- a level of assurance that was not possible previously.

"By all measures the DNA registration program cooperatively run by Kansas State University and the National Greyhound Association is one of the best, if not the best of all animal registration systems worldwide, including the American Kennel Club and registries for horses and other animals," he said. "The program also provides a permanent historical record of archived DNA across multiple generations that can be used for researching genetic diseases.

"This is an exciting program as it balances what good universities do best. It meets the needs of the public though the application of current science, provides the foundation for new discoveries though research while educating students, and is self-supporting so that the taxpayers are getting a very good deal," Fenwick said.

May 10, 2001