The Dark Side of the Dwarf Gene
Dr. Theresa Nesbitt talked last week about the purpose-bred dogs that evolved with short legs to do very specific jobs. Today she talks about “the dark side of the dwarf gene” and what happens when things go wrong when you’re trying to do it right.
Dwarf genes have been around for more than 4000 years, Nesbitt said. They are solidly entrenched in some breeds that are specifically “fit for function” for the job they were meant to do.
“Everything that isn’t normal, isn’t pathological,” Nesbitt said.
Too much of a good thing
Sometimes, though, breeders can get “too much of a good thing,” Nesbitt added. She also shared tremendous information on the various genetic disorders of dogs who aren’t supposed to be dwarfs.
Nesbitt provided layman’s translation for a lot of medical terminology. She helped decipher topics like retro genes, epigenetics, genes that inadvertently land on the wrong chromosome and more.
Making words like achondroplasia make sense to those of us without a medical degree is a gift that Nesbitt shared throughout this episode. “Chondro,” for example, refers to cartilage, Nesbitt said, and “plasia” means growth. The dwarfism gene affects the rate at which animals (including humans) produce cartilage.
“The growth plate at the end of the long bones is like a disc of cartilage that keeps making longer bone,” Nesbitt said. “It pushes out like a pasta machine extruding bone in a perfect column.”
Genes are a “recipe book”
Nesbitt’s discussion of “layering genes,” autosomal recessive genes and the progress being made in the research community as they acquire more advanced understanding of how all of these systems work is fascinating. She also brought to the discussion ways in which research on canine genetics is benefitting people.
Intervertebral disc disease, in which calcification develops between the discs, is an area Nesbitt said research is making tremendous strides in identifying the specific genes responsible.
Genes provide a “recipe book” to the cells, for which epigenetics are the “family notes,” Nesbitt said. She added that the environment can change or modify genetics.
This is a “must listen” episode. And probably more than once! Nesbitt’s enthusiasm for the topic and ability to translate into layman’s terms is invaluable.
Dr. Marty Greer Talks “Frozen Assets”
Frozen semen is an investment not only in one family of dogs, but in the future of the breed in question. Dr. Marty Greer, DVM, JD takes us through a checklist of important considerations for preserving genetic material from our best dogs.
First, Greer said, be sure the semen is stored in a safe facility. Sometimes even storing the same dog’s semen in more than one facility is worth the cost.
Greer’s story about a private semen storage whose owner passed away without a will in place is a cautionary tale.
Insure the Future with Frozen Semen
Second, make provisions for transfer of semen ownership, whether in a will or trust, Greer said. This vital step will ensure the safety of valuable genetics.
“Don’t look at it as your dog line’s future,” Greer said, “but take a step back and look at it as the future of your breed.”
She contends the value of frozen semen is that the best dogs are what we have in frozen. Improvement in testing for diseases means we can use genetic material even if it is imperfect, by using DNA testing to line up the frozen semen with an appropriate bitch.
“If we can test their semen … they’ve got preserved,” Greer said “and use those to match with the appropriate bitches, we can really move our breeds forward, if we’re willing to think hard about this and not just be looking at that little tiny bit of your genetic material but look at your breed as a whole …”
Greer is a strong advocate for planning ahead for the transferal of frozen semen ownership. And to consider sharing it outside one’s own breeding program.
“And in our semen freezing contracts we have a provision made for how that semen should be transferred,” Greer said. “You should have it in your will. You should talk to your attorney about it and a lot of attorneys are going to be unfamiliar with this kind of transaction. So you’re probably going to want to talk to somebody that has some expertise. Somebody in a legal position that they’ve either got a dog ownership and they’re attorneys as well. Debra Hamilton does a lot of work with trust for dogs.”
Another point Greer makes is acquiring insurance for the storage of the semen.
“ I have a few clients that have purchased old semen from their mentors,” Greer said “and they may have 10 to 20 dogs frozen and so they may have a good deal of financial investment in that. … insurance is available through a small number of companies but don’t count on it being insured at the place that you’re storing it.”
Greer also provides input on how to estimate fair charges for owners who will sell vials of frozen semen to other breeders.
Listen today for all of Greer’s great advice.
And if you missed it, you can listen to our interview last summer with Debra Hamilton on the topic of creating plans for the future of your dogs, breeding program and more at this link: https://puredogtalk.com/96-divorce-disease-disaster-disability-delay-death-and-your-dogs-debra-hamilton-esq-how-to-make-a-maap-plan-2/