Center for Integrative Genomics/School of Biological Sciences seminar

Seminar Title:

The Study of Working Dog Genetics and How It Can Be Applied for Management


Dr. Joe Lachance and Dr. Saad Bhamla


Heather Huson
Associate Professor
Department of Animal Science
Cornell University


Friday, September 30, 10:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.


EBB 1005 (in-person only)

Speaker bio and talk summary:

Dr. Heather Jay Huson is an Associate Professor of Animal Genetics in the Department of Animal Science at Cornell University.  Dr. Huson received her B.S. in Animal Science at Cornell University (’97) and Ph.D. in Molecular Genetics at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks (’11).  A significant part of her Ph.D. work was done at the National Institutes of Health in the Human Genome Research Institute and her post-doctoral research was with the USDA Bovine Functional Genomics Laboratory.  She has a diverse background combining animal breeding, veterinary technician experience, and molecular genetics across livestock, companion animals, and wildlife species.  Dr. Huson competitively raced Alaskan sprint sled dogs for 23 years, participating in internationally sanctioned events throughout the continental United States, Canada, and Alaska.  She left competitive racing during her graduate studies but kept close contact with the sport as she studied the genetics of Alaskan sled dogs.  Her research aims at improving animal health and performance by investigating the genetic regulation of traits and population structure, breed development, and selection in animal populations.   Her work has identified genetic markers associated with athletic performance in Alaskan sled dogs and production or adaptation measures in livestock.  The genetics associated with performance in working dogs remains Dr. Huson’s passion and her research has expanded to other working dog groups and the study of canine aging in an effort to extend the working lifespan and quality of life in dogs.  An end goal of her research efforts is to generate data that can be directly used as a tool to inform breeding and management.

For centuries, dogs have been genetically selected for varying morphological and behavioral traits generating one of the most diverse mammalian species on the planet.  This selection, combined with varying strategies of closed or open breeding systems, has created a unique genomic architecture in the dog allowing for the study of complex traits.  Working dog groups who commonly keep extensive pedigree, health, behavior, and morphological records on their dogs, are invaluable for conducting genetic studies.  To this end, cohorts of sled dogs, guide dogs, and detection dogs are being investigated to estimate trait heritability, explore the relationship within and between dog breeds, and identify genes regulating traits.  Using whole genome sequence data, whole genome single-nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) data, and gene sequences, multiple studies have been completed and are in progress. Results have identified signatures of selection in sled dogs distinguishing sprint from endurance dogs, a risk haplotype associated with congenital laryngeal collapse, and genomic regions associated with performance traits.  Research is in progress to identify genes and causative mutations for distichiasis, panosteitis, and dermatitis in guide dogs and statistical models are being evaluated by comparing the performance of machine learning methods to the well-recognized gBLUP method for estimating genomic merit across working dog groups.  Information derived from these studies improves our understanding of how genes influence phenotypic variability and how selection influences genomic architecture. Results can similarly be used to direct studies across species and in a variety of applications including the development of genomic breeding values, or estimates of genetic merit, which inform breeding, management, and the procurement of dogs.