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How Testing for 250+ Genetic Conditions Helps Purebred Dogs


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A common and important question – why does Embark test for health conditions that are not known to impact my breed?

Embark prioritizes health conditions that are known to impact your breed. We highlight these breed-relevant genetic health conditions at the top of the health summary on each dog’s results report. Embark users can also use the pre-formatted OFA Submission report to easily view and print a summary of the breed-relevant health conditions.*

Why test and show results for health conditions that are not known to impact your breed?

In short, this process helps advance the science of genetic health testing by enabling the discovery of new conditions relevant to various breeds. Testing for these additional conditions is considered a best practice among researchers; however, it is rarely done by other organizations due to its prohibitive cost. Embark’s unique DNA testing process, however, enables this research to be included at no additional cost and provides the added benefit of more comprehensive information to share with the breeder.

How does screening for 250+ health conditions contribute to new health discoveries?

To best answer this question, consider how a DNA test for a genetic condition is ‘discovered’. The actual genetic construct, or makeup, of a typical breed – one where the studbook has been closed and no sanctioned outcrossing is permitted – creates a population of ‘like individuals’ that are essentially close relatives to one another. This genetic similarity lends itself to an ideal model to investigate and identify genetic disorders. Once a breed community ascertains a genetic disease or trait is of concern, significant time, effort, and funds are dedicated to identifying a causative mutation so that it can be selectively managed or bred out of the population in the future.

After a successful research initiative identifies a causative or associated mutation, a common practice among researchers is to broadly screen the breed population to determine the mutation frequency within the breed. Many researchers also seek to expand this effort and screen related breeds to determine if there is also an impact in similar type breeds or breeds with shared ancestry. The expense of this additional screening is significant, however, and it is commonly too cost-prohibitive to screen all breeds; thus, the norm is to focus only on the primary breed.

Universal screening is now cost-effective

Embark has changed this paradigm. For the first time, widespread and consequential screening of all breeds for all known genetic mutations is incorporated into standardized DNA testing at no extra cost to the dog owner. Embark has created “sentinel screening”, enabling individuals and breed organizations to be alerted of genetic health conditions previously not known to impact their breed. On occasion, the introduction of deleterious mutations may be due to an unintended outcross to the source breed and only impacts limited bloodlines. Embark’s early detection, much like the “canary in the coal mine” concept, allows action to be taken to manage or eliminate the mutation before it becomes prevalent in another breed. In cases where the mutation may already be common in the breed, but its impact is undocumented, Embark can work directly with breeders, owners, and clubs to determine if the previously unknown mutation has a clinical consequence.

No cost Embark benefits

For this reason, Embark tests for genetic health conditions across all breeds. And, due to Embark’s proprietary research platform and processes, Embark can perform this testing at no additional cost to the dog owner. Embark has already identified mutations of previously unknown existence or significant prevalence in different breed populations than the published source breed or published mutation statistics.

Informing and enabling individuals, clubs, and breed communities, to take immediate action to assess and manage these data is significant, and will have a long-lasting positive effect on overall breed health and wellness. Every Embark DNA Test supports important research efforts and contributes to new discoveries. We thank all Embark breeders and owners for your continued support, and look forward to further supporting the health and longevity of all dogs.

*Embark strives to provide the most accurate and informative health results possible to every user. As part of this effort, Embark’s team of scientists and veterinary geneticists review research on an ongoing basis to learn more about genetic diseases, newly published risk variants, and the breeds of dogs they affect. While some risk variants may be detected in certain breeds, information regarding the clinical presentation (how that affects your dog’s health) of the disease may not be known or yet fully proven. For a condition to be considered breed-relevant, Embark’s science and veterinary geneticist team must have reviewed published research, or gathered enough data on dogs within the breed, to include in the breed-relevant category.

Lisa Peterson Contributor

Award-winning writer, journalist, and podcast host Lisa Peterson is a canine subject matter expert and Content Strategy Lead at Embark Veterinary. She served as the American Kennel Club director of communications and club communications for 10 years before becoming a Westminster Kennel Club public relations consultant from 2016 to 2021. Lisa began owning, breeding, and handling Norwegian Elkhounds more than 35 years ago, and today is an AKC judge and AKC Breeder of Merit.

Read more about Lisa Peterson

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