With the pandemic this year, many holiday gifts were less object-driven and more (safe) experiential. A trend over the last few years that continues to grow is giving people insights into their history, chemistry and ancestry.

Nothing tells a story like your DNA, and with widespread DNA testing shedding light on the ancestry of millions of people, there are lots of stories being shared.

A growing number of companies now offer DNA tests that promise to pinpoint a customer’s heritage and identify genetic relatives. Millions of people have signed up for the tests, sending saliva samples to laboratories and paying for an analysis. Many assumptions have been replaced by the surprising results.

With the Human Genome Project (HGP) we now have the ability to learn more about nature’s complete genetic blueprint for building a human being.

My husband and I did one of these a few years ago and one of the many interesting things is they continue to refine and update the data so frequently we get alerts that our lineage has been given even more detail and clarity, often focusing in on specific regions of a country from which our ancestors originated.

Before it became popular for people, canine DNA tests were providing pet owners with insight as to what their rescue dog’s heritage looked like. Beyond just the curiosity factor, it provided health and behavior insights, often to first time pet owners.

A dog DNA test is easier than you might think. You can do it yourself with a simple cheek swab or have your veterinarian do a blood sample the next time Fido is getting his heart worm test. In just a few weeks, you’ll receive a report that includes your dog’s DNA results. Depending on the company, you’ll see the percentage breakdown of your dog’s breeds and risks for developing some hereditary diseases.

The thing about dog (and human) DNA is people always assume all physical attributes are evident in the dog. Many times the attributes comes through in behavior or even health conditions.

A few years ago we did the “doggy DNA” tests on two of our dogs. It was an interesting experiment and a learning opportunity. The results are below.

First, meet Cady. When we adopted her from a local rescue they told us she was Corgi/Sheltie mix. I think the ears fooled them.

Below is Cady’s DNA results, and they got the Sheltie part right and we weren’t surprised at the Australian Shepherd part because she is our little herder. But who would have guessed at boxer?

Next up is Oscar. This time the rescue just labeled him a terrier-hound mix. We thought he looked like a small Irish Wolfhound.

At first glance of the results my husband said, “there must have been a step-ladder involved.” Norweigan Elkhound and Shih Tzu? The thing is it really was spot on. Oscar has a hound bark and runs like the wind (Greyhound). His outer coat is shaggy like a Shih Tzu, but his undercoat is soft and downy like the Elkhound.

The genome of the domesticated dog, a close evolutionary relation to human, is a powerful new tool for understanding the human genome. Comparison of the dog with human and other mammals reveals key information about the structure and evolution of genes and genomes. The unique breeding history of dogs, with their extraordinary behavioral and physical diversity, offers the opportunity to find important genes underlying diseases shared between dogs and humans, such as cancer, diabetes, and epilepsy. As more research is done, the ending of the stories might be happier ones.

Melody K. Smith

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