Researchers map dog epigenome for the first time
Researchers have successfully mapped the dog epigenome, opening the door to an improved understanding of how environmental factors influence their genetic expression, as well as ours.
Epigenetics is the study of how behaviors and the environment cause changes to the way genes work. Unlike genetic changes, epigenetic changes are reversible and don’t alter the DNA sequence but can change how the body reads a sequence of DNA.
Because of dogs’ accelerated biological clocks and shorter lifespans, compared to humans, they can act as lookouts, responding more quickly to environmental risk factors and alerting us to potential dangers. But despite our very long relationship with humankind’s best friend, we lack a reference epigenome for dogs.
It’s somewhat disappointing, considering we share so much – environment, diet, lifestyle, and exposure to infectious agents – that could inform how these things influence them, and us, genetically.
Now, researchers at the Seoul National University have closed that knowledge gap, creating a high-quality reference map of the dog epigenome for the first time, providing a means for genomics research and comparative studies with humans and other species.
The researchers focused on one breed – the beagle – and closely examined 11 major dog tissues: the brain (cerebrum and cerebellum), mammary gland, lung, liver, stomach, spleen, pancreas, kidney, colon and ovary. They then used the genetic data they collected to create a functional genome annotation, marking specific features in DNA, RNA or protein sequences with descriptive information about structure or function.
They compared the dog epigenome to existing human and mouse epigenomes. Through their work, which they named EpiC Dog (Epigenome Catalog of the Dog), the researchers found conserved and dynamic functional characteristics shared between different tissues and species. Most notably, the dog epigenome was found to more closely resemble the human epigenome than the mouse’s, suggesting similarities in how genes are regulated with implications for human health and disease.
“This groundbreaking epigenome map can be extensively utilized to study different dog breeds, delve into cancer and disease mechanisms, conduct comparative research across species, and significantly contribute to advances in human life science,” said Je-Yoel Cho, corresponding author of the study.
Interestingly, according to a study published earlier this month, naturally occurring canine cancers possess remarkable similarities to their human counterparts. The study found we share 18 genetic mutation ‘hotspots’ which are likely the cause of cancer. The discovery of this overlap between humans and dogs could be assisted by the work of researchers in the current study.
And the researchers say that EpiC Dog will, of course, greatly benefit the vets that treat our four-legged friends.
“This work also represents a milestone for basic research in the field of veterinary medicine,” Cho said. “This breakthrough enables researchers to unravel the impact of epigenetic modifications on gene expression and opens up new avenues for investigating the underlying mechanisms of complex diseases, advancing veterinary diagnostics, therapeutics, and personalized medicine approaches for dogs.”
The researchers plan to develop EpiC Dog to advance dog epigenomics further.
The study was published in the journal Science Advances.