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Planet Earth

A Doctor's Best Friend

By Susan KruglinskiMarch 3, 2006 6:00 AM

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The earliest ancestors of golden retrievers were chosen for their yellow coat and patient personality, but these desired traits came with an unfortunate side effect: a genetic predisposition to cancer, which ends up claiming the life of up to 63 percent of these dogs, according to one study. Golden retrievers are far from alone. The selection process that has given dogs such appealing, humanlike behaviors has also given many breeds humanlike genetic diseases.

With the recent decoding of the complete dog genome, this coincidence could aid the search for cures to many devastating types of illness. Humans have such diverse genetic makeups that it is difficult to pin down the common DNA flaws among a group of people. But in a line of purebred dogs, selected for their similarity over dozens of generations, identifying a corresponding gene is as easy as picking out a Chihuahua in a lineup of Saint Bernards. Diseases that researchers are focusing on include:

CHOW CHOW gastric cancer

SAMOYED diabetes

BEAGLE abrmal blood clotting

BASSET HOUND "bubble boy" disease

DACHSHUND epilepsy

DOBERMAN PINSCHER narcolepsy

GOLDEN RETRIEVER lymphoma

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