DNA Archive At Home 

DNAah(pronounced “Dinah”)

What is the DNA Archive at Home program?

The DNAah program is an opportunity for owners and breeders to collect DNA for genetic research on as many generations as possible by storing it at home.

We know that having DNA on extended families is important in genetic research. Unfortunately, too often we cannot get DNA on the siblings, sires and dams of affected dogs. This is especially true of late-onset diseases such as degenerative myelopathy; by the time a dog is definitively diagnosed, most of the immediate family is gone. 

By collecting “generational DNA” – that is, DNA from litters that are on the ground and from future litters – breeders will have DNA available if and when promising research arises. Single-dog owners can also contribute to research efforts by ensuring they have DNA stored on their Ridgeback as well.

How is the DNA collected?

The DNA is collected via cheek swabs. The swab is twirled on the inside of the cheek for about 10 seconds to collect mucosal cells, then air-dried for 10 seconds. You replace the swab in the original package and store it in a well ventilated area -- a drawer, box or some other non-airtight container. You do not put swabs in plastic bags or seal them.

 

Can you collect enough DNA on a swab?

Some research facilities ask that blood be sent for DNA extraction on the premise that blood contains more DNA and precludes the possibility of running out. It is true that swabs collect less DNA, but genetics labs have the technology to replicate it. The University of California at Davis and Washington State University are two of the many institutions that use swab DNA for research and use DNA replication technology.

Click here for an article by a canine geneticist about the advantages of DNA swabs in gene mapping.

We will send multiple swabs for each dog to be archived to ensure an adequate amount of DNA is collected to start with.

 

How long will the DNA on swabs last?

Indefinitely. Researchers are using swabs that are 10 years old now, and they see no age-related decline in the quality of the DNA, provided the ambient humidity is not too high.

 

Don’t I need to store the swabs under special conditions, such as in a refrigerator?

No – this is the beauty of home DNA storage. DNA swabs at research laboratories are stored in file cabinets at room temperature. It’s that simple. Just keep the swabs out of direct light in a dry place, and avoid temperature extremes and excessive moisture. Again – and we cannot stress this enough – do not seal them, as the lack of circulating air will create an environment for microorganisms to grow and compromise the DNA.

 

What is the cost of collecting DNA?

If you collect swabs and store them at an archival facility, the cost is approximately $5 to $10 per dog. 

If you collect blood and store it at an archival facility, the cost is $15 to $40 per dog. 

If you participate in the DNAah program, we will send you six (6) swabs per dog, FREE. In return, you agree to complete RRCUS’s online health survey for each dog swabbed, update it annually and volunteer three (3) of the swabs for research to be used at the discretion of RRCUS H&G, if and when it is needed.

If you do not want to make the DNA available to H&G for genetic studies that RRCUS supports, but still want to collect DNA on your dogs, swabs will be available for purchase at $1 each. We recommend maintaining at least three (3) swabs on each dog. 

 

What does the DNA have to do with the health survey?

The health survey, as a whole, is a record of breed health, and the DNA becomes the physical representation of that record. DNA is useless unless the dog’s phenotype – the outward manifestation of its genetic makeup -- is recorded.  Liver nose and black nose are examples of phenotypic traits based on the dog’s genetics. Hip dysplasia, hypothyroidism, cataracts, etc., are all phenotypes as well. The individual health survey is the record of a particular dog’s phenotype. 

 

If the health survey is confidential, how do you know what DNA is available for research?

Actually – we don’t. We only know that you, as a Ridgeback owner or breeder, have volunteered to participate in the DNAah program. We will send you the appropriate number of swabs you need to store DNA based on the number of dogs you entered in the health survey, but we will not know the identities of individual dogs, nor will we know anything about their phenotypes.

 

So if you don’t know the phenotype of the dogs being archived, how will you know what is available for research?

We won’t – unless you tell us.

Elements Software Engineering (ESE), the company that maintains the electronic survey for RRCUS, will have a list of diseases/phenotypes RRCUS is actively pursuing research in. If you enter or update a dog as being affected with one of those phenotypes and you are a DNAah participant, ESE will send you a letter via regular mail advising you that this phenotype is currently the subject of genetic research and will give you the name, phone number and email address of one of the chairs of the H&G committee to contact. When you contact her, she will get the necessary data to ensure the DNA is reliable – that is, that there is a confirmed diagnosis and the appropriate documentation is available. If all is in order, she will coordinate with the researcher and you to get the DNA where it needs to go.

You will be volunteering the information and, as always, confidentially is assured. Just as we are relying on the integrity of the Rhodesian Ridgeback owner and breeder to come forward with DNA when it needed, we know the breeders are relying on our integrity and discretion. This is the only way we can manage the DNA archive and keep the health survey confidential.

 

If this is on the “honor system,” how do you know that a breeder is being honest?

We don’t. But we feel if a breeder takes the time to swab his or her dogs and enter them in the health survey, he or she has the interest of the breed at heart and will follow through.

 

What if I want to collect DNA on my dogs, but don’t want to be part of DNAah?

You can do that.  You can buy swabs from us at $1 a piece. We recommend you maintain three swabs per dog.

 

Are there particular people you would encourage to participate more than others?

Everyone is encouraged to participate. Single-dog owners and breeders alike can make a difference by collecting DNA on their Ridgebacks. Obviously, breeders can make a tremendous impact because they are able to collect DNA on more dogs – i.e., entire litters before they leave the whelping box.   

ALL breeders are strongly encouraged to participate and are reminded that there is no purebred dog, of any breed, that does not carry some deleterious genes. With each breeding, there is a very real possibility that genetic disease will manifest at some point in the lives of the pups. It is in the best interest of the breed for all breeders to collect and store DNA on their line in the event of this possibility. Collecting DNA on an entire family after genetic disease surfaces is difficult, if not impossible. This is a proactive approach to stopping genetic disease.

 

How do I get started?

You start by entering your dog(s) in the health survey. If you are a breeder, enter your most recent litter and as much of its ancestry as possible. Enter each puppy of a litter with a unique PIN so that the owner can access the health survey on their dog for updating. Identify those dogs you will collect DNA for DNAah. For breeders, the initial collection of older generations will be the most complicated. After that, litters can be swabbed in the whelping box.

Contacting all my previous puppy owners will be a lot of work: How can I do this quickly and effectively?

H&G has drafted a letter that explains the DNAah program in brief. Simply personalize it, print it out and mail it to your puppy person along with six swabs if you are a DNAah participant (three swabs if you are not) and a return envelope.

Please note that the swabs are bulky, and may require additional postage to mail.

For a copy of the letter, click here.

 

How do I order swabs?

Individual dogs in the DNAah program must be enrolled in our new electronic health survey, which will debut in late 2006/early 2007, before swabs can be sent out. Click here to be placed on our email alert list to be notified when the survey is up and running.

RRCUS breeders who are expecting litters in the next several months and who want to inquire about the possibility of swabbing their puppies in advance of the survey debut, please contact Susan Ralston at Susan.Ralston@Merial.com.

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