|Yep. I failed.|
On one side are breeders keen to maintain type who have been taught that 'linebreeding' is the only way to achieve it; on the other are those exploring diversity breeding and/or whose priority is function rather than form. Both camps have keyboard warriors who can be withering about the other. The debates often get polarised, agenda-driven and personal.
Yesterday, my post on Tickle was cross-posted as follows:
Rose Jay followed it up with a PM telling me I was responsible for the deaths of thousands of dogs. She believes that following Pedigree Dogs Exposed, people with pedigree dogs were so afraid of their gasping, limping genetic time bombs that they took them to the vet to be euthanised or handed them into rescues where they were subsequently killed.
There is no evidence for this other than a couple of anecdotal stories - one a Cavalier apparently PTS because its owners were so afraid that it would develop syringomyelia.
I tried to stand the stories up at the time and couldn't. And I don't believe many vets would agree to kill an animal on these grounds. If there are other, genuine instances that stand up beyond internet gossip, I would appreciate knowing about them.
Now in posting the above screen-grab and in not blurring Rose Jay's name, I realise I am indulging in the very behaviour that I am criticising above.
But hey. My blog.
I'm posting it mostly to articulate the hurt it has caused at a time when I am crushed over the loss of a dog. Up to 10,000 people a day visit this blog so I can tell a lot of people how hurt I am. Which makes me feel better.
But it also provides a great segue into telling you about someone who is bigger than me; someone who has risen above the social media bitching to do something genuinely useful for dogs and breeders.
Two years ago, as I blogged here, Carol Beuchat set up the Institute of Canine Biology, an online resource designed to bridge the gap between science and breeders in a positive way.
Since then, Carol has been busy. She is running online courses in population genetics for dog breeders; encouraging the setting up of global pedigree databases and bringing in geneticists, conservationists, breeders and other experts to help with breed conservation/rescue plans. There has been huge demand.
And now Carole has taken another important step. Frustrated by the merry-go-round discussions and descents-into-chaos that so often mark online dog-breeding groups, she has set up a Facebook page called ICB Breeding for the Future which aims for a higher signal-to-noise ratio.
The goal of this group is to assist breeders in implementing modern, scientific principles in their breeding programs. This is not a place to debate whether this is worth doing, and I will absolutely not tolerate people who are here just to be disruptive - they will be blocked instantly. This needs to be a supportive, safe, place for breeders need to learn what they need to know, and it needs to feel like a community of collaborators. We are focused like a laser on helping breeders learn how they can breed excellent, healthy purebred dogs.The page has attracted 500 breeders from all over the world in just two days - representing an extraordinary array of breeds, many mainstream, some of which are new to me. Remarkable is the appetite to learn and the general awareness from many of those introducing themselves that there is a need for something new.
This is the Institute of Biology's elevator pitch - which will give you an idea of what you're letting yourself in for:
1) All the useful genetic variation your breed will ever have was in the dogs that founded the breed. This genetic diversity is finite.Now be warned: Carol is a straight-speaker. She can be a little schoolmarmy at times. She doesn't brook any messing about in class. And some of what she will tell you turns some long-embraced breeder tenets upside down.
2) Every generation, alleles are lost by chance (genetic drift) and also by artificial selection by breeders, who select for dogs with the traits they like, and remove other dogs from the breeding population.
3) Because the stud book is closed, genes that are lost cannot be replaced.
4) So, from the moment a breed is founded and the stud book is closed, loss of genetic diversity over time is inevitable and relentless.
5) You cannot remove a single gene from a population. You must remove an entire dog, and all the genes it has.
6) You cannot select for or against a single gene, because genes tend to move in groups with other genes. If you select for (or against) one, you select for (or against) them all.
7) Breeding for homozygosity of some traits breeds for homozygosity of all traits. Homozygosity is the kiss of death to the immune system. And as genetic variability decreases, so does the ability of the breeder to improve a breed through selection, because selection it requires variability.
The consequences of inbreeding (in all animals) are insidious but obvious if you look - decreased fertility, difficulty whelping, smaller litters, higher puppy mortality, puppies that don't thrive, shorter lifespan, etc. Genetically healthy dogs should get pregnant if mated. They should have large litters of robust puppies, with low pup mortality. Animals that cannot produce viable offspring are removed by natural selection.
9) Mutations of dominant genes are removed from the population if they reduce fitness. Mutations of recessive alleles have no effect unless they are homozygous. So rare alleles are not removed, and every animal has them.
10) Create a bunch of puppies that have a (previously) rare mutation, and the frequency of that bad allele in the population increases, so the chance of homozygosity increases.
11) Genetic disorders caused by recessive alleles don't "suddenly appear" in a breed. The defective gene was probably there all along. Make a zillion copies, and you have a disease.
12) Using DNA testing to remove disease genes will not make dogs healthier (see 2, 5, and 6).
13) The breed will continue to lose genes (by chance or selection) until the gene pool of the breed no longer has the genes necessary to build a healthy dog.
14) At this point, the breed might look beautiful (because of selection for type), but will suffer from the ill effects of genetic impoverishment.
15) The only way to improve the health of a breed is to manage the health of the breed's gene pool.
16) The health of individual dogs cannot be improved without improving the genetic health of the population. Population genetics provides the tools for genetic management of populations of animals.
17) Breeders can improve the health of the dogs they breed if they understand and use the tools of population genetics.
DNA testing won't make dogs healthier? Who knew?
Carol's plan is to ask for a small subscription so that she can afford both to devote her time to it - and be able to bring in the professionals as needed.
But it's free at the moment. And promises to be a genuinely supportive, collaborate venture for those who love dogs and whose breeding decisions shape their future.
Check it out here.
Related post: Dogs - the Elevator Pitch