Through the Born to Guide project, Guide Dogs aims to create a database of the full genome sequence of 3,000 of our dogs. The project is a collaboration with the University of Nottingham as well as other organisations. To our knowledge, this will be the only project that will perform whole genome sequencing with 30 passes, delivering a higher quality sequence. By working with world class scientists, we hope to uncover the complex relationships between our dogs’ genes and the environment to support the health and welfare of dogs everywhere.
Guide Dogs keeps extensive records of our dogs’ progress throughout their lives, and we have a comprehensive system to track the health information for each dog. The data bank of 3,000 full genome sequences will be combined with this health and behaviour data and will allow us to use artificial intelligence technologies and machine learning to identify relationships between genetic sequences and patterns of behaviour and diseases displayed in our dogs. This will help us understand the complex genetic components of diseases like atopy or undesirable behaviour traits such as distraction.
Guide Dogs’ breeding programme currently relies on estimated breeding values for some health conditions and phenotypic information for others, and for behaviour traits. The use of genomic data in the future, through the development of genomic breeding values, will help us move into a breeding system which will be more reliable and improve the performance and wellbeing of our dogs.
By sharing our results and making a globally accessible resource for researchers we hope to support the health and welfare of dogs everywhere. The technology developed to interrogate the data could be applied to other dog data in order to understand patterns of behaviour and health in other populations or by other organisations. Once we have constructed this database, companies and research groups will be able to apply for free access to the data.
Tom is a quantitative geneticist and has spent over a decade in research focusing on the genetic analysis of complex inherited disease and population structure in pedigree dog breeds. With a background in animal science, he gained his PhD investigating multiple aspects of quantitative genetics at the Roslin Institute and Nottingham University. Since then, Tom has worked at the Animal Health Trust and the Kennel Club, using pedigree and health testing data as the basis of his research, including the provision of estimated breeding values (estimates of genetic risk of hip and elbow disease), for multiple Kennel Club registered breeds. He joined Guide Dogs as Head of Canine Genetics in January 2021 and is project lead for Born to Guide.
Helen is Head of Research at Guide Dogs. She leads and supports the team on a range of canine science and human behavioural science projects. Helen has a PhD in animal behaviour and has spent several years carrying out applied research in the assistance dog and animal welfare sectors. Helen is particularly interested in puppy behavioural development, measuring dog temperament, improving understanding of the human animal bond and promoting animal wellbeing. Helen’s role in this project is to provide oversight and ensure all outputs will lead to real life benefits for Guide Dogs and the wider dog sector.
Rachel has worked for Guide Dogs specialising in research relating to dog health and reproduction since 2008. Rachel’s research interests include reproductive physiology and performance in the bitch and neonatal health and survival. Rachel is studying for a PhD with the School of Veterinary Medicine and Science, University of Nottingham. Rachel manages the project operations, sample and data collection.
Becky has worked for Guide Dogs since 2016, specialising in research relating to dog behaviour. Becky offers support for the behavioural data required for the project. Becky is part way through her Masters degree which involves developing estimated breeding values for Guide Dogs based on validated behavioural measures.
Professor England is the Foundation Dean of the University of Nottingham School of Veterinary Medicine and Science and is Professor of Comparative Veterinary Reproduction. Professor England is an academic clinician who undertakes clinical work and research in the field of reproductive biology, behaviour and animal selection.
Professor England is Guide Dogs’ Chief Veterinary Consultant and is instrumental in the success of Guide Dogs’ breeding programme. Professor England’s role on the Born to Guide project is to provide expertise on breeding management and selection.
Lea gained her PhD in dynamic cell biology from the University of Bristol in 2018. Lea has been instrumental in the project development stage and assists with data and technology requirements and with developing collaborations for the computer science elements of the project.
Sue has worked at Guide Dogs for 15 years in the Philanthropy and Partnerships team which incorporates working with Trusts, Individuals and Corporate donors. Sue has over 28 years of fundraising experience and specialises in Trusts and Foundation grants and relationships, which she will manage as part of the Born to Guide team.