Part one. Who needs the world largest pets health database
We could revolutionary improve our pets’ health through genetic researches. But firstly we should join the efforts of scientists and pet owners by information technologies.
Cats and dogs live with humans for many thousands of years. To be precise it’s about 10,000 years for cats and 30,000 years for dogs. So they began to differ greatly from their wild ancestors. Magnificent Persians or aliens-like Sphyxes. Devoted Shepherds, playful Spaniels, respectable Mastiffs. All of them are the result of artificial selection which has a downside.
Purebred pets often suffer from breed-specific diseases and serious chronic health conditions. These are metabolic disorders, heart diseases, kidney diseases and much more. Mongrel cats and dogs are believed to have better health but in reality they often don’t. Mongrel cat or dog isn’t a wild genotype, it’s a mix of genes from unknown sources. Therefore the mongrels live in different ways: some quickly senesce, others set records of longevity. The officially registered oldest cat in the world, for example, lived 38 years. This is 2.5 times longer than the average cat life expectancy. Just like the 200th birthday for a human being.
It seems that pets’ health and life expectancy are strongly dependent on genetics. A careful owner can treat pet’s infections, eliminate the risk of injuries and provide proper nutrition. But then heredity will take its toll. If you ever been an owner of a cat or dog you understand what problems are involved. To treat a constantly sick animal is expensive and troublesome. You worry about the pet and suffer with it. However there is no way to learn in advance whether your pet will get ill. As well as there is no way to foreknow when it will die, in 8 years or in 25.
Indeterminate heredity of cats and dogs also causes the concern for breeders. Every mating of purebred pets became a kind of lottery. If breeder is lucky the kittens or puppies will be healthy and retain the important breed traits. Bad combination of genes result into weak and diseased offsprings.
Finally it’s a problem for veterinarians. They try to improve health condition of their patients, to prevent deterioration and prolong pets’ life. It turns into an endless race that can not be won. Just because today there are no drugs that can fix pet’s bad genes.
Some gene therapy and genetic diagnostics for humans already exist. So it is no doubt that genetics can solve the problems of our pets. Why doesn’t it happen? There is not enough data. And not enough focus, to be quite honest about it. Still people care more about themselves.
Currently it’s possible to determine exactly a genetic cause of so called monogenic diseases which are the result of a single defective gene. These are lactose intolerance, phenylketonuria, cystic fibrosis in humans, a progressive degeneration of the retina in dogs, polycystic kidney disease in cats.
Unfortunately predisposition to obesity, diabetes, heart diseases and early senility is not encoded in one defective gene. These are whole sets of genes and regulating regions of the genome interacting with each other and changing activity under the influence of external factors. To reveal these relationships and shed light on the genetic mechanisms of disease and aging it’s necessary to collect thousands and even millions of pets’ genetic samples and their medical histories. Then scientists should compare them, identify patterns, and eliminate errors. Such biomedical research is called Genome-Wide Association Studies (GWAS).
The task is difficult considering how genetically different the domestic cats and dogs became after centuries of breeding. Just look at Bulldogs and Collies, Sphinxes and Persians. Any two humans from the remotest corners of the world are much more similar to each other. But the main question for researchers is where to get such a large amount of data. You can imagine selfless scientists who have decided to take a DNA sample from every cat or dog that meets them on the way. But even if these enthusiasts spend on hunting 24 hours a day the work will drag on for decades. Moreover taking into account the cost of the analysis and data processing itself the necessary investment will be comparable with the cost of the US space program.
A real alternative is to join the efforts of many research labs, owners, breeders and veterinarians. This idea formed the basis of the HealthyTail.
To be continued…