Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Breeding a Champion, Ridding the Mutants

The precision of dog breeding has greatly improved since the tool of DNA tests has become available to breeders. Whether or not the standards of some breeding techniques are ethically correct is still under debate. The NY Times article As Breeders Test DNA, Dogs Become Guinea Pigs explores the genetic breeding in racing dogs called "Whippets" as well as several other examples of genetic breeding in dogs.

Left - Regular whippet, Right - "Bully" whippet 

Eyebrows were raised once abnormally muscular mutant whippets starting arising in the litters of champion racing whippets. Scientists gathered DNA samples from race meets across the country and found that the oversized or "Bully" whippets have a genetic mutation that enhances muscle development. The mutation was found to be a defective copy of the myostatin gene, which inflates the muscles of some whippets while making others the quickest dogs on the track. Elaine Ostrander,  scientist at the National Institutes of Health, discovered that the fastest champion whippets had a single defective copy of the gene, while the "bullies" had two. Breeders are continuing to mate these fast dogs with one another even while knowing that they may have to kill off the unwelcome bullies that will often be produced. Some breeders express that breeding these genetic champions cause a championship to be "less earned", however these whippets are still being judged and raced along with the naturally gifted dogs.

The article also explains how the innovation of genetic testing on dogs is creating a model for scientists to study the unknown consequences that may arise from genetic testing. These models will be beneficial as DNA tests start to become further applied into our society. Not only is genetic selection disturbing the natural biodiversity in some dog breeds, it has also backfired in some ways. For example, since genes are often tied to multiple traits, scientists are finding that genes responsible for coat colors are also causing skin problems. Some positive uses of DNA screening are those that aim at improving health in dogs and also create models for improvement in human health. For example, Dobermans are being screened for a gene responsible for von Willibrand disease, a bleeding disease like hemophilia that also affects humans.

Overall I find it wrong to modify and rid dog breeds based just off of aesthetic and athletic purposes. This is diminishing the creative expression of dogs, killing off breeds, and is truly unnecessary. I think the whippet breeders should no longer be able to purposely breed and cultivate these racing dogs. Dog racing, which I'm not a fan of to begin with, should be left for the naturally gifted dogs to compete in. Mutants shouldn't be knowingly produced and killed either just so dog breeders can win a trophy. Genetic testing on dogs in my opinion is only ethical if it is being done in the name of health and medicine.


  1. Cody, I completely agree with your opinion on this topic of breeding dogs for the enhancement of athlete purposes. As an avid dog lover, I think this is flat out wrong. If breeders keep being careless to the fact that mating dogs with genetic mutations; sooner than later it will lead to severe consequences and increase the number of genetic defects in the breed. The breed of whippets will then loose sight of their true AKC standard and will be distorted throughout generations. As you mentioned in your post, the dogs that have the potential to express the mutant shouldn't even be considered for breeding purposes. They should ban the breeding of these "bullies" so that there is no chance for the genetic mutation to be expressed.

  2. Cody Collins,

    I think your presentation of this article was superb being that it's something you don't agree with. Although I also am an animal lover, its undeniable that without animals we would not have the genetic information that we currently possess. Testing that may have been unethical or upsetting to some, has brought a greater understanding of heredity, in the case that tests of this nature cannot be performed on humans.
    Saying this, the only benefit to genetic modification is money and prizes for people exploiting the genetics of animals. I agree, this should not be done.