Australian Shepherd Health & Genetics Institute

Australian Shepherd Health & Genetics Institute

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DNA Banks & Research


What is a DNA bank?   

A DNA bank, sometimes called a gene bank, is a repository of DNA samples, usually in the form of whole blood or extracted and preserved DNA.  It is a way of storing DNA for long periods against future need.  In the case of purebred dogs this usually means saving for future research.  If enough samples are on file a research project will not be delayed waiting for dog owners to volunteer samples, a process that can take months or even years.  Most studies focus on one or maybe a few breeds, so it is important that every breed have a significant number of samples in a DNA bank.  Some breeds do this on their own but costs and long-term administration can be problematic for volunteer-based entities.  An alternative is an all-breed DNA bank like that offered by OFA though it’s CHIC program.

Isn’t all DNA I provide on my dog stored somewhere?

Not necessarily.  The material submitted for a DNA profiles and parentage verification is not generally unavailable for other purposes and may be stored for a limited time (programs vary).  DNA submitted for that purpose usually isn’t in a form that leaves sufficient material for research.   Samples given to one research study may or may not be available for others.  The best way to guarantee that samples are available for future use, particularly after the dog has died, is to submit them to a DNA bank designed to support canine health research in your breed or multiple breeds at any qualified research institution.

If I give DNA from my dog to research, shouldn’t I get the results?

A donation of DNA should be looked upon in the same manner you would a monetary donation to research:  A gift to help further the project.   Not every project will have concrete results on every dog that could be shared.  This isn’t a fault in the research but more to do with the processes and goals of the particular study.  Sometimes, if a successful study leads to a DNA test, owners of dogs whose samples were used may be given results but you shouldn’t expect it unless that was a condition agreed to by the researchers ahead of time in regard to all samples submitted, not just yours.  Even if individual results are offered, research can take years; it can be a long time before there is anything to tell you.  Contact information can become outdated.   If lots of people are involved, the time and expense for individual contact can make it impossible.  Articles summing up the research for breed magazines help, but if the results are highly technical that may not happen.  Sometimes a project isn’t successful and you probably won’t hear anything because the questions being asked are still open by that study.  The important thing is that you continue to provide DNA samples for research projects.  Even if you don’t hear anything afterward, your contribution was appreciated and you should consider it vital to continuing research.

DNA is in every cell in your body, right?  So why does it matter what kind of sample you send in for for research?

While it’s true that all your dog’s cells (except red blood cells) have DNA, not every cell type is going to be useful for sample submission.  You wouldn’t want to submit a bone marrow sample, for an extreme example, unless it was medically necessary.  Bone marrow isn’t easy to get to and being the donor isn’t a pleasant experience.

For the most part, when you send in a DNA sample on your dog it will be for one of three things:  Research, disease screening, or DNA profiling/parentage verification.  The needs and design of a particular research project dictate what type of sample you submit, with the most likely types being whole blood, cheek swabs, or – occasionally – a tissue sample.  If you want to send DNA to a DNA Bank in hope that it might later prove useful for research, whole blood is the ideal sample.  DNA screening testing labs will specify the sample type—usually a cheek swab.  DNA profiling and parentage verification programs usually require either a cheek swab or a blood sample.