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Genetic Diversity

As dog breeders, we engage in genetic "experiments" each time we plan a mating. The type of mating selected should coincide with our goals. To some breeders, determining which traits will appear in the offspring of a mating is like rolling the dice - a combination of luck and chance. For others, producing certain traits involves more skill than luck - the result of careful study and planning. As breeders, we must understand how we manipulate genes within our breeding stock to produce the kinds of dogs we want. We have to first understand dogs as a species, then dogs as genetic individuals.

The species, Canis familiaris, includes all breeds of the domestic dog. Although we can argue that there is little similarity between a Chihuahua and a Saint Bernard, or that established breeds are separate entities among themselves, they all are genetically the same species. While a mating within a breed may be considered outbred, it still must be viewed as part of the whole genetic picture: a mating within an isolated, closely related, interbred population. Each breed was developed by close breeding and inbreeding among a small group of founding canine ancestors, either through a long period of genetic selection or by intensely inbreeding a smaller number of generations. The process established the breed's characteristics and made the dogs in it breed true.

When evaluating your breeding program, remember that most traits you're seeking cannot be changed, fixed or created in a single generation. The more information you can obtain on how certain traits have been transmitted by your dog's ancestors, the better you can prioritize your breeding goals. Tens of thousands of genes interact to produce a single dog. All genes are inherited in pairs, one pair from the father and one from the mother. If the pair of inherited genes from both parents is identical, the pair is called homozygous. If the genes in the pair are not alike, the pair is called heterozygous. Fortunately, the gene pairs that make a dog a dog and not a cat are always homozygous. Similarly, the gene pairs that make a certain breed always breed true are also homozygous. . Therefore, a large proportion of homozygous non-variable pairs - those that give a breed its specific standard - exist within each breed. It is the variable gene pairs, like those that control color, size and angulation, that produce variations within a breed.


BREEDING BY PEDIGREE
Outbreeding brings together two dogs less related than the average for the breed. This promotes more heterozygosity, and gene diversity within each dog by matching pairs of unrelated genes from different ancestors. Outbreeding can also mask the expression of recessive genes, and allow their propagation in the carrier state.

Most outbreeding tends to produce more variation within a litter. An exception would be if the parents are so dissimilar that they create a uniformity of heterozygosity. This is what usually occurs in a mismating between two breeds. The resultant litter tends to be uniform, but demonstrates "half-way points" between the dissimilar traits of the parents. Such litters may be phenotypically uniform, but will rarely breed true due to the mix of dissimilar genes.

A reason to outbreed would be to bring in new traits that your breeding stock does not possess. While the parents may be genetically dissimilar, you should choose a mate that corrects your dog's faults but phenotypically complements your dog's good traits.

It is not unusual to produce an excellent quality dog from an outbred litter. The abundance of genetic variability can place all the right pieces in one individual. Many top-winning show dogs are outbred. Consequently, however, they may have low inbreeding coefficients and may lack the ability to uniformly pass on their good traits to their offspring. After an outbreeding, breeders may want to breed back to dogs related to their original stock, to increase homozygosity and attempt to solidify newly acquired traits.

Linebreeding attempts to concentrate the genes of a specific ancestor or ancestors through their appearance multiple times in a pedigree. The ancestor should appear behind more than one offspring. If an ancestor always appears behind the same offspring, you are only linebreeding on the approximately 50 percent of the genes passed to the offspring and not the ancestor itself.

It is better for linebred ancestors to appear on both the sire's and the dam's sides of the pedigree. That way their genes have a better chance of pairing back up in the resultant pups. Genes from common ancestors have a greater chance of expression when paired with each other than when paired with genes from other individuals, which may mask or alter their effects.

A linebreeding may produce a puppy with magnificent qualities, but if those qualities are not present in any of the ancestors the pup has been linebred on, it may not breed true. Therefore, careful selection of mates is important, but careful selection of puppies from the resultant litter is also important to fulfill your genetic goals. Without this, you are reducing your chances of concentrating the genes of the linebred ancestor.

Increasing an individual's homozygosity through linebreeding may not, however, reproduce an outbred ancestor. If an ancestor is outbred and generally heterozygous (Aa), increasing homozygosity will produce more AA and aa. The way to reproduce an outbred ancestor is to mate two individuals that mimic the appearance and pedigree of the ancestor's parents.

Inbreeding significantly increases homozygosity, and therefore uniformity in litters. Inbreeding can increase the expression of both beneficial and detrimental recessive genes through pairing up. If a recessive gene (a) is rare in the population, it will almost always be masked by a dominant gene (A). Through inbreeding, a rare recessive gene (a) can be passed from a heterozygous (Aa) common ancestor through both the sire and dam, creating a homozygous recessive (aa) offspring. Inbreeding does not create undesirable genes, it simply increases the expression of those that are already present in a heterozygous state.

Inbreeding can exacerbate a tendency toward disorders controlled by multiple genes, such as hip dysplasia and congenital heart anomalies. Unless you have prior knowledge of what milder linebreedings on the common ancestors have produced, inbreeding may expose your puppies (and puppy buyers) to extraordinary risk of genetic defects. Research has shown that inbreeding depression, or diminished health and viability through inbreeding is directly related to the amount of detrimental recessive genes present. Some lines thrive with inbreeding, and some do not.

if everyone is breeding to a single stud dog, (the popular sire syndrome) the gene pool will drift in that dog’s direction and there will be a loss of genetic diversity. Too much breeding to one dog will give the gene pool an extraordinary dose of his genes, and also whatever detrimental recessives he may carry, to be uncovered in later generations. This can cause future breed related genetic disease through the founders effect.

Dogs who are poor examples of the breed should not be used simply to maintain diversity. Related dogs with desirable qualities will maintain diversity, and improve the breed. Breeders should concentrate on selecting toward a breed standard, based on the ideal temperament, performance, and conformation, and should select against the significant breed related health issues. Using progeny and sib-based information to select against both polygenic disorders and those without a known mode of inheritance will allow greater control.

Rare breeds with small gene pools have concerns about genetic diversity. What constitutes acceptable diversity versus too restricted diversity? The problems with genetic diversity in purebred populations concern the fixing of deleterious recessive genes, which when homozygous cause impaired health. Lethal recessives place a drain on the gene pool either prenatally, or before reproductive age. They can manifest themselves through smaller litter size, or neonatal death. Other deleterious recessives cause disease, while not affecting reproduction.

Problems with a lack of genetic diversity arise at the gene locus level. There is no specific level or percentage of inbreeding that causes impaired health or vigor. It has been shown that some inbred strains of animals thrive generation after generation, while others fail to thrive. If there is no diversity (non-variable gene pairs for a breed) but the homozygote is not detrimental, there is no effect on breed health. The characteristics that make a breed reproduce true to its standard are based on non-variable gene pairs. A genetic health problem arises for a breed when a detrimental allele increases in frequency and homozygosity.

GENETIC CONSERVATION
The perceived problem of a limited gene pool has caused some breeds to advocate outbreeding of all dogs. Studies in genetic conservation and rare breeds have shown that this practice actually contributes to the loss of genetic diversity. By uniformly crossing all "lines" in a breed, you eliminate the differences between them, and therefore the diversity between individuals. This practice in livestock breeding has significantly reduced diversity, and caused the loss of unique rare breeds. The process of maintaining healthy "lines" or families of dogs, with many breeders crossing between lines and breeding back as they see fit maintains diversity in the gene pool. It is the varied opinion of breeders as to what constitutes the ideal dog, and their selection of breeding stock that maintains breed diversity.

Decisions to linebreed, inbreed or outbreed should be made based on the knowledge of an individual dog's traits and those of its ancestors. Inbreeding will quickly identify the good and bad recessive genes the parents share in the offspring. Unless you have prior knowledge of what the pups of milder linebreedings on the common ancestors were like, you may be exposing your puppies (and puppy buyers) to extraordinary risk of genetic defects. In your matings, the inbreeding coefficient should only increase because you are specifically linebreeding (increasing the percentage of blood) to selected ancestors.

Don't set too many goals in each generation, or your selective pressure for each goal will necessarily become weaker. Genetically complex or dominant traits should be addressed early in a long-range breeding plan, as they may take several generations to fix. Traits with major dominant genes become fixed more slowly, as the heterozygous (Aa) individuals in a breed will not be readily differentiated from the homozygous-dominant (AA) individuals. Desirable recessive traits can be fixed in one generation because individuals that show such characteristics are homozygous for the recessive genes. Dogs that breed true for numerous matings and generations should be preferentially selected for breeding stock. This prepotency is due to homozygosity of dominant (AA) and recessive (aa) genes.

If you linebreed and are not happy with what you have produced, breeding to a less related line immediately creates an outbred line and brings in new traits. Repeated outbreeding to attempt to dilute detrimental recessive genes is not a desirable method of genetic disease control. Recessive genes cannot be diluted; they are either present or not. Outbreeding carriers multiplies and further spreads the defective gene(s) in the gene pool. If a dog is a known carrier or has high carrier risk through pedigree analysis, it can be retired from breeding, and replaced with one or two quality offspring. Those offspring should be bred, and replaced with quality offspring of their own, with the hope of losing the defective gene.

Trying to develop your breeding program scientifically can be an arduous, but rewarding, endeavor. By taking the time to understand the types of breeding schemes available, you can concentrate on your goals towards producing a better dog.

© Jerrold Bell, 2004-2008

To real the full article click The Ins and Outs of Pedigree Analysis, Genetic Diversity, and Genetic Disease Control
Genetics