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Daily CSR

Daily CSR
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DNA testing your dogs increases its quality of life


DNA testing your dogs increases its quality of life
Rachel Miro was living alone in a studio apartment in Pittsburgh in 2019 when she decided to foster a four-legged companion. She went to a nearby shelter and was immediately adopted by Milo, a floppy-eared mutt with dark, expressive eyes. He was almost a year old, according to the shelter.

Milo was in bad shape at the time; he had parasitic worms that were wreaking havoc on his health. Miro decided to adopt him after helping nurse him back to health.

As a self-proclaimed “crazy dog lady,” Miro was enthusiastic to learn more about her pup. “I’ve always been fascinated by any product promising to provide more information on my dog or enrich my dog’s life,” she said.

She discovered an Embark Veterinary DNA test that not only traced lineage and breed specificity, but also revealed genetic mutations associated with health risks. Milo had a relative who was a few years her senior, which prompted her to look further.

Miro was first in line for beta testing when Boston-based Embark launched a test to accurately determine a dog's age in 2022. Milo had recently been diagnosed with arthritis, and his fur had started to grey. "I was perplexed as to why he was exhibiting signs of ageing at such a young age," Miro explained. Milo was six and a half years old, according to Embark's new test, far older than she'd been told. His arthritis, greying snout, and mature size all made sense.

The vision of Embark is to use science to provide accurate answers to people like Miro so that their dogs can live longer, healthier lives. According to CEO and founder Ryan Boyko, the two most common questions dog owners have when adopting, and understanding a dog's genetic makeup can help owners better feed, train, and care for them.

The Dog Age Test by Embark is based on the well-established link between age and DNA methylation. Enzymes attach small chemical tags called methyl groups to DNA base pairs as animals age, regulating the expression of specific genes. Certain methylation patterns change predictably with age, implying that they can function as a clock. Measuring the amount of methylation in a dog's DNA yields an accurate calendar age estimate.

The test was created in collaboration with Illumina, whose Infinium Methylation Array is used to assess the level of DNA methylation. The consumer's canine saliva samples are processed using two types of fluorescent beads that bind to methylated and unmethylated DNA bases. To help determine the degree of methylation, the samples are scanned and the ratio of one fluorescent signal type to the other is compared. Embark analyses the lab results and sends the consumer a report that includes preventive care recommendations.

Embark hopes that this new test will be just one of many that will provide information to pet owners. "We're looking at other technologies that build on our foundation of genetic and canine knowledge to help us find new ways to improve the lives of dogs," Boyko says.

Miro is one of the many dog owners who have benefited from the age test. During the beta testing phase of the company, 40% of customers took action after discovering their dog's true age, and roughly one-third of those who took action sought veterinary care.

Miro began taking precautions after discovering Milo's true age. She reduced his exercise to lessen the impact of his arthritis. She used to take him on runs and hikes, but now she tracks his activity to ensure he gets enough without overdoing it. She also started giving him supplements.

She's grateful that Embark's age test yielded such clear results, which will allow her to keep Milo happy and healthy by her side for many years to come.

To learn more about how Illumina is expanding access to genomics, click here.