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DNA testing: Embark experts answer top breeder questions

July 8, 2020

Genetic health variant testing—for breeding dogs and puppies—has become more common among breeders: Our experts are increasingly asked about various health conditions and traits, breed-specific impacts, and how the science behind Embark’s testing works to provide this information.

As a science-first company, we’re committed to providing you with the education and expert advice you need to understand how genetic health testing can improve the lives of your dogs and enhance your breeding program. So we’re eager to share some of our answers to common breeder questions. Have a look, then post your own questions here.

What is the easiest way to check if Embark tests for a particular health condition I care about, and what breed-relevant tests you offer for my breed? 

Click here to search by breed or health condition to see all of the genetic health tests offered by Embark, the breed-specific tests recommended by Embark and which tests are registrable with the OFA. However, you do not have to worry about which test to order; the Embark for Breeders test kit includes all health testing that Embark offers.

My dog was tested for 173 genetic health conditions last year, but when I logged in yesterday, his results showed 179 conditions. How is that possible? 

Your dog did indeed receive additional test results without the need to submit a new sample or pay an additional fee! A unique offering of Embark is that we provide newly validated test results for free to all existing customers, wherever possible.

As new tests are validated at Embark, a dog’s result will be updated if we have the raw genetic data needed to determine a result. In some cases, this is not possible (we update our platform from time to time and dogs run on early platforms might not have the information needed to determine a genetic result), but in many cases it is possible, and we provide this information at no cost. There is no need to email us to request these updates; they are done automatically

For genetic test results, does Embark provide a link to the dog’s results so breeders can highlight them to other breeders and potential puppy buyers? 

Yes, Embark offers breeders the ability to designate any or all of the dogs they’ve tested to have test results be publicly viewable. These settings can be adjusted within a dog’s Embark profile settings, and include individual options for breed, health, and traits results and photos. 

An easily shareable, unique link is generated for each dog tested. This link can be shared on a website, social media platform or via email. 

What is Degenerative Myelopathy, and how should variant testing be incorporated into my breeding program?

Degenerative Myelopathy (DM), is a late-onset neurological disorder that leads to dogs exhibiting various clinical signs including scuffing of the tops of their feet, weak limbs, and incoordination. It is considered the canine equivalent of Lou Gehrig’s disease (known as ALS). 

The SOD1A variant can cause DM in several breeds of dogs, while the SOD1B variant has been studied in Bernese Mountain Dogs; Embark provides results for the SOD1A variant. Many neurological conditions can cause symptoms similar to those exhibited with DM, and a definitive diagnosis of DM requires histopathological (microscopic) evaluation of the spinal cord.

However, interestingly, many dogs that are homozygous for the SOD1A variant never develop DM. Furthermore, in many breeds with high SOD1A allele frequency, clinical and/or histopathological DM is exceedingly rare, even unheard of. For these breeds, Embark and other authoritative bodies do not recommend using the SOD1A genetic test as a primary factor in breeding decisions. 

Degenerative Myelopathy is a disease that scientists are continuing to study, as it may give us some insights about how to treat or prevent the disease (in dogs and in humans!). Check out this blog for a deep dive into what DM test results may mean for your dog, and how results should be applied to your breeding program.

Should I worry about breeding a carrier or at-risk dog of a given genetic health variant? 

This is an important question and relates to the overall topic of how best to incorporate genetic health testing into a breeding program. Genetic health testing includes the genetic coefficient of inbreeding (COI) as well as individual health variant results. 

The answer depends on a variety of factors including the clinical condition, the penetrance of the variant and its mode of inheritance, the allele frequency, and the breed. Embark’s Chief Science Officer, Dr. Adam Boyko, discusses these factors in detail in this excellent video.

What advantages does Embark’s saliva test have over blood tests?

DNA testing requires DNA, and DNA is assessed by ‘quality and quantity.’ There are a wide array of sources for DNA (blood, saliva, buccal cells, tissue, semen, bone, etc.). Generally, the source can impact the quality and/or quantity— however, if the final extraction of DNA meets quality standards, the source of the DNA should not be an issue.  

Saliva is easy to collect and provides very high quality and quantity of DNA. Our process has rigorous standards, and we are dedicated to providing you with accurate results.   

How do I post a question?

At Embark, we believe that sharing questions, answers and scientific research helps all of us improve the lives of dogs and continue on the path of responsible breeding. So we invite you to contribute to the discussion. Follow us on Facebook, post questions and ideas for topics we should cover in upcoming FAQ posts—and watch for Facebook live events, exclusively for breeders.