Wednesday, November 6, 2013

My dog is not a Schipperke! -- The tale of one dog's DNA Analysis

I adopted my dog Jelly from the Berkeley Humane Society almost 10 years ago.  Her kennel card proclaimed her a Sharpei mix.   I bought it.   She has classic identifiable Sharpei physical characteristics.   Cute tiny triangle ears?   Check.  Rough horse hair coat (Sharpei literally means "sand skin").  Yep.  Wrinkles?   Definite  loose folds which we can pull over her head in a "comb over."    Purple skin -- yes though not tongue.  Turtle tail.  Yup.  Sharpeis-R-Us

People who know Sharpies  quickly identify her as such (the rest assume she's a pit bull mix I guess due to her stocky short-haired body -- but she's more of a pinhead than a blockhead).   But, what about the rest?   What other ingredients were in the mix of my best girl?    Six plus years ago when the Doggie DNA bizness was just starting I sent in some Jelly juice to be analyzed.    It was too hard to resist, all warnings and skepticism aside.   This is the DNA Age after all!

Imagine my chagrin when the report came back that I was the proud owner of a Miniature Pinscher mix!   Umm,  no.  It was good for a few laughs particularly with  side-by-side pictures of my 55-lb pooch with a 10lb Min Pin.    

I sent my "complaint" back to the company that they advertised they mapped the Sharpei gene but it had not been detected.    They agreed to re-test and magically her DNA transformed into a Sharpei/German Shepherd mix with hints of Rottweiler, Pomeranian and several other breeds.   WHATEVER.

Fast forward to last month.  Several people I know had recently submitted their pooch saliva for a Wisdom Panel test (Hi Kiem & Leo!).    My interest was again piqued and given Jelly's advancing age (and hopefully the advancement in the technology accuracy)  I decided to take the plunge again.  So, off went the spit swab to  Mars Veterinary for some Wisdom results.    The advertised 2-3 week turnaround was actually only 10 days.  Yippee!    Tell me about my pooch...

Meet your new....   Australian Cattledog / Shiba Inu / Schipperke / Mixed Breed dog:  JELLY!   

My dog is not a Schipperke.  No how, no way.  No offense to all you "little black devil" (not my turn of phrase)  dog owners/lovers.  Just not my cuppa tea.

Okay, so they offered a hint of Sharpei in the Mixed Breed ancestry though they wouldn't commit (my comment in red).

Of course, I sent a polite inquiry off to Mars Vet wondering why Jelly's strong Sharpei showing wasn't identified in the test results.   I know, statistical analysis and all that... My Jelly the outlier?

I received a quick response asking me to send some pictures of Jelly (headshot and side)  back so they could provide further information on the basis for the calculations.  Nice, I'm always willing to share pictures of my cute gal.

Here's what I sent as representative of her true sharpei-ness!

Again, a quick, courteous response:

"We have tried to present the results of our Wisdom Panel® DNA tests in a format that customers will understand. Additionally, we have sought to provide guidance as to which of the reported ancestral breeds are likely to account for the most significant genetic influence as these in turn may potentially impact the dog’s physical appearance and behavior. The stronger the breed signal detected, the greater proportion of that breed’s genome has been inherited increasing the likelihood that traits from the breed will be detectable. However, we must avoid absolute certainties as it is possible that a breed present in significant amounts might have subtle visible effects on the dog's phenotypic (genes that control appearance) traits due to the unique combinations with genes from other breeds present in the mix. 

All breed determinations are made solely by our proprietary computer algorithm. With each tested dog’s DNA, more than 7 million repetitive comparisons are made using a complex statistical algorithm. The algorithm scans the 321 genetic markers collected and looks for matches to breed signatures (Jelly’s sample was of very good quality and matched to almost 97% of the genetic markers we use for breed identification).  The computer then provides a complex numerical score for each breed (how good the match to the breed was at each marker) as well as a prediction of the relative amount of each breed detected. It then selects the single best combination of breeds and relative amounts of breeds detected that best match the tested DNA sample from this comparison with our extensive database of purebred AKC dog breed signatures." 

The rep then provided some other more detailed information that I found interesting.

"An important thing to keep in mind is that humans don't always inherit all their parent’s traits and this is the same with dogs...  In 1965, researchers Scott and Fuller bred a purebred Basenji to a purebred Cocker Spaniel and were shocked by the appearance of the F1 (first generation) dogs that were produced. "    

How often do we know the parents of a dog that show up at a shelter?     Almost never, but it sure would be interesting. (parents on left, offspring on right)

She then ran a test of Jelly's DNA markers against a genetic Sharpei profile and sent me the following graph.   As the legend shows, Jelly is blue, green is a purebred sharpei and the red dots are the mixed dog group.   Hmm.   Look at that cute little blue dot :-)

Not to go on about my dog but I will in the interests of... science... but the Mars Vet rep then provided the following breakdown.

Jelly’s Traits:

**NOTE** A dominant trait means that a dog only needed to inherit one copy of the gene (from any of its ancestors) in order to express it.  A recessive trait means that they would have needed to inherit two copies of the gene (one from their mother’s side of the family tree, and one from their father’s side) in order to express it.  More often than not, a dominant trait will be expressed over a recessive trait.**

Jelly’s coat color

·         Jelly's coat is light tan in coloration, a color that is produced by the recessive pigment phaeomelanin.  This pigment produces coloration ranging from light cream to the deep red of Irish Setters.  All three detected breeds carry this pigment and could have passed it on to Jelly. 

Jelly’s coat length

·         Jelly has a short coat length which is a dominant trait.  Not only do both the Australian Cattle Dog and the Shiba Inu have short hair as a dominant trait, but Jelly could have received this trait from any other of the mixes present in her make-up.  (Me:  But what about that oh-so-unusual rough prickly aspect of her coat which is a Sharpei trademark?)

Jelly’s ears

·         Jelly exhibits drop (down) ears, another dominant trait. This trait would have been inherited from her mix.  

 This video provides a bit more info about how Fido's Physical Traits are Determined...

As a long time shelter volunteer I've encountered many a breed mix in dogs.  I consider myself to be fairly savvy.   I certainly know that a purebred German Shorthair Pointer is not a pit bull as one person claimed as they dropped off a dog they had found.

The Mars rep passed along the following academic paper from the  American Journal of Sociological Research 2013 entitled:  "Comparison of Visual and DNA Breed Identification of Dogs and Inter-Observer Reliability".

From the abstract:  

"We were interested in how often visual identification of dogs by people, assumed to be knowledgeable about dogs, matched DNA breed identification and how often these people agreed with each other (inter-observer reliability). Over 900 participants who engaged in dog related professions and activities viewed one-minute, color video-clips of 20 dogs of unknown parentage and were asked to identify the dogs’ predominant breeds. For 14 of the dogs, fewer than 50% of the respondents visually identified breeds of dogs that matched DNA identification.Agreement among respondents was also very poor"

For those of you interested in the topic it's definitely worth a perusal of the complete report (link above).   Or, a more condensed poster version is available.

So, finally, where does this all leave me...  Convinced?  Not sure.  I do find myself looking at Jelly with new eyes... Is her tendancy to nip due to some cranky cattledog ancestor?   Quite possibly, though I'll likely never know for sure.  Of that which I am certain... she is a magical mystery special blend of 100% canine and her presence brings joy to my life each day.  



Anonymous said...

Great analysis, Rachel! - Eleni

Cris said...

We adopted a puppy and the shelter told us she was a husky mix. She has the features curly tail, white fur etc. We also did the DNA test with wisdom and to our surprise it came back with Australian Cattle dog and schipperke too. This made no sense as the Aussie has a straight tail and the schipperke has none and a black coat. I'd rather been left with the husky mix than this result. It's got me more confused than before...

Cris said...
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