Why Genetic Mutations Are Actually a Good Thing

July 5, 2018

We tend not use the word "mutation" anymore, we say “DNA variance,” but that variation is good.

We tend not use the word "mutation" anymore, we say “DNA variance,” but that variation is good, explains Leslie Lyons, PhD, Gilbreath-McLorn Endowed Professor of Comparative Medicine at the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine.

"Because of the Human Genome Project, a lot of genetic tools and resources are now much cheaper for cats and dogs. And so part of my job has been developing some of the genetic resources—primarily for cats, but I've been involved with dogs and horses as well. The idea is that we have a good reference sequence, a good genome sequence for the cat, a particularly very good one right now.

Starting with that, we build upon that to help find DNA variance in our patients and our individual pets.

Every time an individual is born, there's a chance for new mutations to occur. Mutations are good. We tend not use the word "mutation" anymore, we say “DNA variance,” but that variation is good. It makes us healthy, it makes us fight off infectious diseases, so we want a lot of genetic variations. But every once in a while they do something bad. And so with every baby born there is about 1 in 100 that have some genetic abnormality. So there'd be no reason—cats and dogs and horses are mammals too—that out of 1 in 100 there's probably some genetic issues with 1 of those individuals as well.

Genetic testing has come a long way just in the past 10 years and it seems like it’s exponentially increasing over the years as we go. Right now, genetic testing is very strong for cats and dogs— and horses as well—so we know at least 100 different tests for both species. We can also whole-genome sequence their entire genome, so if we don't know a particular mutation that we're interested in, we can go find it by doing the whole genome sequencing, which is really reduced cost because of the advances in human medicine. We applied all of those advances to cats and dogs as well."