Cornell Professors Create Canine Embryonic Atlas

July 3, 2018
Kerry Lengyel

Investigators now have another research tool in their arsenal to help them better understand genetic and developmental diseases in dogs.

Development of the canine hindlimb at various stages.

While studying canine models of human disease has helped investigators improve diagnostic and treatment options for rare diseases, create new cancer therapies, and more, very little is known about early dog development.

Enter the Canine Embryonic Atlas—a publicly available photo compilation of dog embryos from different stages of development.

While researching inherited disorders of sexual development, Vicki Meyers-Wallen, VMD, PhD, DACT, associate professor of genetics and reproduction at the Baker Institute for Animal Health at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, needed to understand when reproductive organs first appear in the dog embryo. So, while performing microdissection of dog embryos at different stages, she decided to compile and archive photos of each phase.

“The reason I created the atlas was to help researchers, clinicians, and students better understand prenatal development of dogs,” Dr. Meyers-Wallen said.

But the atlas helps in more areas than just canine prenatal development. Dr. Meyers-Wallen said she definitely thinks the atlas promotes a One Health approach.

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“Developmental and genetic information from dogs can be helpful to understanding the development of other mammals for which we have less information regarding their specific developmental processes,” she said.

By using the information in the atlas, Dr. Meyers-Wallen said one can compare the development of various species, helping investigators better understand the commonalities and variations between them.

Besides the photos, the atlas will soon feature RNA data for which key genes are turned on during each developmental stage to control organ development. This will allow investigators to map these genes to their location directly on the dog genome, relate mutations in key genes to specific stages of organ development, and better understand how the mutation causes the developmental disorder.

Dr. Meyers-Wallen said she believes the Canine Embryonic Atlas is only the beginning.

“I have recently retired from Cornell, and so I hope and expect that other colleagues will be adding to the atlas as they obtain such information as a result of their own research studies,” she said.

According to the Cornell website, scientists can send images and genetic data from their own canine research and the Baker Institute will curate the submissions to add to the current atlas.

“I think there are other researchers who are interested in a Feline Atlas,” Dr. Meyers-Wallen continued, “and I hope the Canine Atlas will inspire them to create one online.”