The Saint Bernard, like every breed, has a number of problems. One of those problems is epilepsy. Instead of waiting for rules to be imposed, a group of breeders took the initiative to look for a solution to the problem at DNA level.
Dogzine wrote about this initiative earlier: contact was made with Rebekan Zurbrugg from the BetterBred team, the lab connected to UC Davis. As we speak they are busy mapping the variety in the breed.
To do so, a group of dogs is needed that are unrelated in the first three generations. That is a lot harder than it sounds. because not everyone is willing to cooperate with research like this. That is why owners worldwide are asked to cooperate.
The need for a sufficient number of dogs in the first group is immense.
The initiators consider their own responsibility to be a large one: enthusiasts and breeders of a breed are also the managers of such a breed and it is therefore up to those managers to do everything possible to keep that breed as healthy as possible. Mapping the genetic diversity and then learning as much as possible about options to use it is part of that.
The 100 dogs (but more is always better) that are needed should preferably come from all over the world, because the breed is also spread throughout the world. An international approach is therefore of great importance.
UC Davis understands very well how difficult the first step is for many people and that is why the start-up phase has been kept as cheap as possible, $ 50.
For this, a participant will get a complete breed analysis at DNA level, a report on the genetic diversity within the breed and a plan of action to preserve that diversity as well as possible. The following is offered:
The IR value (internal relatedness), which shows to what extent a dog is inbred.
The DLA value is determined, a value that provides insight into whether the cells of the immune system are rare types or, on the contrary, very common types.
The genetic diversity is determined, making it clear whether a dog has unique diversity or not, and how that diversity relates to the rest of the breed.
All important things that are of great importance to a breeder while making choices in breeding.
The importance of diversity is so great because diversity reduces the chances for diseases to manifest themselves. The idea of eliminating disease from a breed is an illusion, certainly when it comes to complex problems such as epilepsy. Diseases are part of life and all animals (and people) carry some problems. But they are not always expressed and obviously that is what matters. The greater the diversity, the smaller the chance that the different "diseased genes" will find each other and therefore the chance that an animal will express an illness is smaller. And that is why insight into that diversity is of such major importance.
Selecting breeding animals at DNA level will give wonderful options. More and more breeders are starting to realize that this will be the future if we want to breed healthy dogs. And if that is what we want, then the DNA will have to be made visible and insightful.
More than 50 dogs have been registered with the Sint Bernard. That is a good number, but not enough yet. Anyone interested in working with us can sign up: firstname.lastname@example.org