" BAD GENES, BABIES AND BATH WATER "
First published in Double Helix Network News, Fall 1998,
Revised September 2007
by C.A. Sharp
>>> THIS ARTICLE WAS PUBLISHED IN PAP TALK : AUGUST 2009 <<<
Everyone has heard the phrase, "Don't throw out the baby with the bath water." But do dog breeders ever stop to consider
how this admonition applies to them? Certainly not the novice who righteously declares that he will never, ever, keep anything
that has even the possibility of producing the smallest genetic defect. Not even the experienced breeder who refuses to
consider an otherwise excellent line because it sometimes throws cataracts. This tendency toward genetic over-kill not only
culls dogs that might have something to offer, it can exacerbate the very problems breeders are trying to avoid. The following
is a real
life example of what can happen when breeders exercise short-sighted
culling in the name of genetic disease control.
deficient hemolytic anemia (HA). HA is caused by a recessive gene. Dogs with a single copy of the gene are healthy, but those
with two copies die. A screening test was developed that would indicate carriers as well as affected animals. Breeders
screened their dogs, eliminating not only affected animals but the
healthy carriers from the breeding population.
disorder, a kidney problem called Fanconi's Disease. At the time, neither of these diseases had a screening test that would
indicate carriers. (A DNA test for Fanconi is now available.) Had breeders been less fanatical in their pursuit of HA, they might
have retained the healthy carriers in the breeding population, breeding them only to non-carriers so they could avoid producing
HA-affected puppies. By such a method they could have retained the good aspects of those carriers, including freedom from
genes for PRA or Fanconi, while gradually lowering the incidence of the HA gene. Now that a Fanconi test is available, they
can use this
approach for that disease.
to allow them to re-open the stud book to admit some African-born Basenjis. This badly needed source of new genetic material
comes at great trouble and expense for those breeders who make the effort acquire one of these imports. This option isn't even
possible in some breeds, and even where it is, convincing a large registry like AKC to accept undocumented foreign imports
is itself a
the HA test, but the drastic culling process that breeders undertook when using it. If there is a test which can identify carriers,
make use of it. Breeders need to know as much as possible about the genetic potential of their breeding stock. Ideally, they
willing to share the results, whether good or bad, with other
conformation or behavioral problems you can readily observe, but also bad genes. Dogs have at least 80,000 genes. No matter
how high the standards for selection of breeding stock or how strict the culling of offspring, every dog will have genes for
unwanted traits. Experts agree that every individual--be he dog, human or cauliflower--probably carries, three "lethal
equivalents." This may leave you wondering why we aren't seeing dogs and cauliflowers, not to mention each other, dropping
all around us.
or forms, of genes. Only occasionally will the right combination of bad alleles match up to produce an affected individual.
In addition, the lethal nature of these diseases limits the ability of affected animals to pass them on to their offspring because
affected individuals often don't live long enough to reproduce. But the breeding of purebred livestock, including dogs, is not
natural or random. It is selective based on the wants and needs of breeders. As a result, the number of lethal equivalents in
most breeds exceeds the average of three, the problem genes having been inadvertently concentrated through the standard
inbreeding practices used to maximize production of desired traits. Two examples in Australian Shepherds are Pelger-Huet
Anomaly and merle. Genes with lethal effects are only the tip of the iceberg. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of genes
effects are anywhere from minor to extremely bad.
are weighed against faults, then compared to the virtues and faults of prospective mates. If the overall analysis is positive,
the breeder will proceed. Hereditary diseases and defects need to be given the same kind of consideration, in and of
and in combination with all the dog's other traits.
may not necessarily fall into this category, in some circumstances. Remember the case of the Basenjis and HA. Dogs proven
to be carriers of traits in which only homozygotes (those with two copies of the gene) are affected, can be used if care is taken
mate one carrier to another and not to use them extensively.
produce traits like hip dysplasia, epilepsy or thyroid disease should be pulled from further breeding because of the serious and
debilitating nature of those diseases. But their relatives may be used if care is taken to select mates unlikely to carry the same
defect. If at any point an individual proved to be a repeat producer of the defect, it could then be removed from the breeding
Clumber Spaniels, where HD was once almost universal, elimination of all affected animals was not an option if the breed was
to be preserved. By selecting away from the most severely affected dogs, Clumber breeders have managed to improve their
overall situation, producing more non-dysplastic dogs and fewer which are severely affected, even though HD is still common.
situation has occurred with Collies and Collie Eye Anomaly.
sufficient quality dogs available with full dentition that dogs missing multiple teeth ought not to be bred. However, those
missing one or two teeth could be bred to mates with full dentition which are out of families with full dentition. Twenty years
ago, missing teeth in Aussies were almost unheard of. Twenty years from now the situation could be to nearly its starting point
if breeders were conscientious about screening and mate selection--and none of the good traits those dogs have need be lost
or carrying a defect ought to be bred. Australian Shepherds are numerous, but certain sub-sets of the breed are not. In North
America there are thousands of Aussies, but in other parts of the world populations typically number only a few hundred
breeding animals at best. Opportunities to add new stock are infrequent, especially in those countries with strict quarantine
laws and import restrictions. Even in North America a breeder's selection of potential mates may be limited if his breeding
very specific, such as producing a particular type of stock dog.
increased inbreeding which will narrow the available gene pool even further and bring other, possibly worse, defects to the fore.
If defective dogs are to be used, breeders should take special care to avoid subsequently in-breed on those dogs. Neither
should such a dog be bred extensively. Among its offspring, only those which do not exhibit the defective trait should be
for further breeding.
potential for producing genetic diseases and defects in any given cross, they can obtain healthy babies while the bath water
full of bad genes drains slowly away.