LEOGEN - Why Now?
In January of 2020, Dr Anna Letko and associates released a study:
Genomic diversity and population structure of the Leonberger dog breed.
Co-authors include among others: Katie Minor and James Mickelson from the University of Minnesota, as well as Cord Drogemuller from the University of Bern, who together hold the biggest International Leonberger DNA bio-bank collection, (more than 10,000 DNA samples), and who were the teams that developed ALL of our breed-specific DNA tests.
Another co-author is Pieter Oliehoek from Holland, who is the population geneticist that did the Genetic Diversity video for our breed back in 2016, and who has also done the Mean Kinship calculations for ALL current breeding aged Leonbergers worldwide.
So, these people are THE experts on this subject.
Collectively, they are the most well informed and qualified genetics specialists on earth when it comes to our breed.
The report “Confirmed an average inbreeding coefficient of 30% based both on pedigree and direct genetic data. Genome-wide filtering of the 39 complete Leonberger genomes revealed …a list of 22 potentially pathogenic variants for neurological disorders of which 50% occurred only in Leonbergers and 50% occurred rarely in other breeds.
This comprehensive report is packed with data - BUT really, we need look no further than the Conclusion, which in part reads:
“Considerable genetic diversity has been lost in the Leonberger breed due to a bottleneck that occurred during the last century …. This situation appears to be due primarily to the use of popular sires resulting in high levels of inbreeding, which has also facilitated the spread of undesirable genetic traits within the gene pool.
Maintaining the current level of genetic diversity will only be possible through informed selection decisions, especially by:
- Including more dogs in breeding programs.
- Avoiding repeated matings and the use of popular sires.
- Minimizing co-ancestry among the selected parents.
Pieter Oliehoek explains how Leonberger Breeders are maintaining the current diversity levels here.
We have seen these recommendations being made for many years now, and still, the genetic erosion continues.
The problem is this: We know that the three recommendations will only be partially effective - at best - because too many breeders and exhibitors will continue to chase success solely through selecting from show winning sires and lines.
Even with the introduction of Mean Kinship calculations a few years ago, we have seen only a tiny slowing down of the inevitable genetic erosion. In fact the recent re-calculation of Mean Kinship levels clearly shows us that there has been a further reduction of some 2% in the diversity of our breed over just the past 2 to 3 years. Coefficients of inbreeding levels are consequently also still rising fast. And this is a consistent depletion, meaning that at the current rate we may well see a further 10% decline in diversity in just the next 5 years or so.
There is an old saying that one “Can’t see the forest for the trees….” In other words, to not understand or appreciate a complex situation because we see only what is immediately before us, which is but a small part of the whole. What this paper does is to give us the big picture. And that is basically this: If breeding continues the way it currently is, we will collectively paint ourselves into a corner genetically, with no escape. And no, it is not just our breed.
Dr Jerold Bell, Professor of Canine Genetics at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, USA - AND a noted breeder of Gordon Setters, has published many articles on genetics and breeding, several of which are on our LCGB website, and we invite you all to have a look.
To paraphrase Dr Bell: “The goal of all breeds is to grow and maintain a large, diverse and healthy population.
Diversity is the key to a healthy breed. Without diversity, there is no choice, and without choice, you cannot find alternatives to bring into your lines to correct faults.”
At the present rate of deterioration, in 12 or 15 years time the Coefficient of Inbreeding and Mean Kinship levels are very likely to be in an even worse state than they are now.
And when that happens, we as a breed community may desperately need a population of genetically diverse Leonbergers to turn to. We want them to be there.
That is the goal of the LEOGEN project.