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Scientists uncover genetic reasons why many Border Collies go blind

Posted March 27, 2019

Border Collies are considered to be one of the smartest breeds of dogs on Earth. They are fun, playful and easy to train. However, some of them suffer from various health conditions. For example, a condition called goniodysgenesis or gonio causes sudden blindness. Now scientists from the University of Edinburgh have uncovered a change in the genetic code of these dogs that is linked to this condition.

Scientists uncovered the change in the genetic code of Border Collies that is linked to sudden blindness. Image credit: Lilly M via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Mild goniodysgenesis is not as terrible, but a severe condition leads to glaucoma, which results in sudden blindness. The reason why Border Collies are particularly susceptible to this condition is that gonio is inherited. The exact genetic mechanism is still largely unknown, which is why breeders struggle to avoid it. However, now scientists have collected multiple DNA samples from dog saliva. They compared DNA from healthy dogs to those affected by severe gonio. Their findings could help avoiding his condition in the future generations of Border Collies.

Researchers found a mutation in the gene called OLFML3. This gene is heavily involved in the development of the eyeball in puppies. Scientists found that all dogs that suffered from sudden blindness had two copies of the mutated OLFML3. Understanding how this mutation occurs and how it is passed to offspring is crucial to breeders. In fact, several companies have already created genetic tests that identify mutations in the OLFML3 gene and allow breeders to avoid producing puppies that have a high risk of suffering from goniodysgenesis and, potentially, blindness. Scientists say that they are extremely happy that their research was useful in developing these tests, because it will definitely lower the number of dogs that will go blind due to goniodysgenesis and glaucoma.

Goniodysgenesis is a very well-known disease in the Border Collie world. Sudden blindness was first described in Australia back in the end of the previous century. From Australia this disease spread to UK’s breeders, which proved that goniodysgenesis has genetic causes. Goniodysgenesis prevents eyes from developing properly, which means that this inherited condition is pretty much untreatable. Once the dog has it, it has it and there isn’t much veterinary doctors and owners can do. However, genetic testing could help avoiding producing affected puppies.

Seeing a blind dog is very sad. However, this is even worse because people rarely buy or adopt disabled dogs. This means that a lot of blind Border Collies are abandoned or simply cannot even find owners. Many of them only find the excitement when playing with toys to help blind dogs but spending a majority of their lives without owners. Hopefully scientific advancements like this could help solving this problem.


Source: University of Edinburgh

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