For the first time, a group of researchers has managed to map the epigenome of the dog, opening up a world of possibilities for understanding how the environment affects the genetic expression of "man's best friend", and consequently also a little on ours.
Recap: you know what it is epigenetics? it is the branch of science that studies how behaviors and the environment can modify the functioning of genes. Unlike genetic modifications, epigenetic modifications are reversible: they do not alter the DNA sequence, but they can change the way the body reads a DNA sequence.
In summary: in addition to the genome, our DNA, scientists also examine the epigenome, i.e. all the molecules that allow epigenetic modifications in the body.
Friends also in genetics
Dogs, with their accelerated biological clock and shorter life span than humans, can act as sentinels for us, responding more quickly to environmental risk factors and signaling potential dangers. Despite our long relationship with them, however, a reference epigenome for dogs was still lacking.
A serious gap, considering how much we share with them: more or less (depending on the relationship we establish with a dog) we have in common environment, diet, lifestyle, exposure to infectious agents. All factors that could affect everyone's life, with or without a tail.
Epigenome without secrets
Now, at Seoul National University have filled this knowledge gap, creating for the first time a high-quality map of the dog epigenome. This tool will provide an excellent tool for genomic research and comparative studies with humans and other species.
The researchers focused on one breed (the beagle) and scrutinized 10 major canine tissues: the brain, mammary gland, lung, liver, stomach, spleen, pancreas, kidney, colon, and lumps. 'ovary.
EpiC Dog: a catalog available
Through their work, they have called Epic Dog (Epigenome Catalog of the Dog), researchers discovered conserved functional characteristics and dynamics shared across different tissues and species.
In particular, the dog epigenome turned out to be more similar to the human than to that of the mouse. This obviously suggests similarities in how genes are regulated with implications for human health and disease.
'This groundbreaking epigenomic map can be widely used for many purposes. We can study different dog breeds, gain insight into the mechanisms of cancer and disease, conduct cross-species comparative research, and significantly contribute to advances in the science of human life.' To say it is Je Yoel Cho, corresponding author of the study published in the journal Science Advances (I link it here).
Screw in the mirror
Today's news also becomes interesting in the light of a study published earlier this month, which shows striking similarities between canine tumors and their human counterparts. The study found that we share 18 gene mutation 'hotspots' that are likely causes of cancer.
Finding this overlap between humans and dogs could be facilitated by the researchers' work in the current study. And obviously veterinary medicine will benefit: this breakthrough opens up new ways to investigate the underlying mechanisms of complex diseases, for veterinary diagnostics, for therapies and approaches to personalized medicine for dogs". Who knows if they will also lend a hand to Dr. George Church in to make "rejuvenate" for a fee the most loved dogs of the wealthiest owners.
The researchers plan to further develop EpiC Dog to further advance canine epigenomics.
Canine epigenome mapping: the future? It has four legs
And so, between a yelp and a bark, our four-legged friends help us understand ourselves better. Not only do they keep us company and fill our lives with joy, but now, thanks to science, they also help us decipher the mysteries of our epigenome.