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Project to Sequence 20K Dog and Cat Genomes

Dog's nose

(85Miranda, Pixabay.

9 Jan. 2023. Some 20,000 dogs and cats are expected to have their genomes sequenced in the next 10 years for a publicly available database to enable precision medicine for pets. The Mars Petcare Biobank is an initiative of Mars Petcare, a division of consumer products company Mars Inc. that provides many popular pet food brands and a network of veterinary diagnostic and clinical services worldwide, and the Broad Institute, a genomics research center affiliated with Harvard University and MIT.

The Mars Petcare Biobank seeks to encourage precision medicine for pets that targets therapies to specific molecular conditions based on individual genetics, as well as environment and lifestyle factors. The project is leveraging the presence of Mars Veterinary Health, a part of Mars Petcare, with its 2,500 veterinary hospitals and diagnostics clinics in 20 countries. In addition, Mars Petcare sponsors the the Waltham Petcare Science Institute in Waltham, U.K. that studies preventive medicine for pets, including genetics and biomarkers.

The biobank aims to enroll and sequence the genomes of 10,000 dogs and 10,000 cats over the next 10 years. The study also plans to follow the pets over their lifetimes, collecting behavioral, lifestyle, and health data to correlate with genetics. Mars Petcare clinicians are offering free annual checkups for pets that enroll and offer a cheek-swab for DNA testing. Owners are also asked to have their pets wear an activity monitor to track their activity levels, scratching and licking behaviors, and nutritional requirements. The researchers seek to reveal more details about diseases in pets including obesity, skin, dental, gastrointestinal, behavioral, and skeletal disorders.

Insights into ancient origins of pets

While Mars Petcare first revealed its plans for the biobank in June 2022, the company announced today its collaboration with Broad Institute for full-genome sequencing and analytics, as well as data availability for researchers. Elinor Karlsson, director of the Vertebrate Genome Biology lab at Broad Institute and professor of bioinformatics at University of Massachusetts medical school is leading that part of the project. “Making this data fully accessible to the global scientific community,” says Karlsson in a Mars Petcare statement, “will provide new insight into the ancient origins of dogs and cats, who have lived by our sides for thousands of years, and support research projects focused on improving health care for pets living today.”

Mars Petcare says data from its Petcare Biobank will be made available through the Sequence Read Archive at the National Center for Biotechnology Information, part of National Institutes of Health. The Sequence Read Archive is a collection of experimental DNA and RNA sequences maintained and offered to researchers through Google Cloud and Amazon Web Services.

“This project could help us further understand how we can build individualized pet care solutions for each unique dog or cat, which has the potential to become part of routine health care practice.” notes Mars Veterinary Health chief medical officer Jennifer Welser. “As veterinarians, we’re always looking to improve patient outcomes and for new ways to solve some of the most pressing pet health care challenges such as obesity, skin conditions, dental disease, infectious and zoonotic diseases, orthopedic disorders and, of course, cancer.”

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