Lead Breed Health Co-Ordinator’s Report April 2018
Firstly, can I clear up a couple of points. At the last Council meeting, I was challenged about where I stood on certain issues notably the one about the demand for a DNA test control scheme, rather like whose side am I on. I tried to explain I was in the middle as the post is a link or channel between the KC and the breed. That said, and this should apply to all BHC’s whether a Club one or a breed one, I am on the side of science, and science alone, and anyone straying from this is on the slippery slope. Any decisions on health must be based on the scientific evidence currently available and nothing else. As I have often said I do not do ‘emotion’ simply because if you allow your heart to rule your head you may easily finish up doing what is not for the best. Furthermore, those involved with health have varying degrees of scientific knowledge and experience, ranging from the enthusiastic amateur with no professional experience to those who are, or were, involved in scientific or academic fields professionally, possibly to the post-graduate or even post-doctorate level. This is an advantage but even they will accede to the specialists in other fields. Thus, when it comes to genetics, we all must accept the advice of the top professionals employed by the KC – they are the experts and we are not.
The second issue is the claims of ever being ‘promised’ a control scheme. I was never of the impression that we were ever ‘promised’ one and bear in mind that I attended all the meetings that took place between the breed and the Animal Health Trust, including Jeff Sampson who was then the KC’s geneticist, through the late 1990s through to the mid-noughties after the sequencing of the canine genome. I spoke to Ivor Keyes, who led the proceedings from the breed side so efficiently in those days, about any possible ‘promise’. Ivor did not recall anything of this nature being said nor was there anything in ‘black and white’ in the paperwork he still has and the fact that nothing was ever documented is important. The first control scheme was in Irish Setters for CLAD (which has damaged its gene pool, sadly) and it was naturally recognised at the time as a possibility for all recessive conditions. It was explained to me at the time, 12 or more years ago, that it was possible in the IS as virtually all breeders were Club members and already testing. Thus, my understanding of the situation, following discussions with Jeff on several occasions, was that we would have to obtain about 95% testing levels before a control scheme might be considered, and we are nowhere near this level yet! Thus, it could be said at the time it was a case of ‘seeing how thangs go and we could ask for a control scheme later’; however, it was not a case of asking and we would get!
Jeff was not in the position to ‘promise’ anything as matters of this nature would have to go through the appropriate KC sub-committee thus Jeff might recommend but could never ‘promise’ as he simply did not have the authority/
For the many, perhaps the majority, in the breed today who did not know Jeff, he had a duly cautious approach. He frequently warned about ‘throwing baby out with the bathwater’ or reminding us ‘if a gene was lost it was lost for ever’. In the early days when the DNA tests for HC-HSF4 and L-2-HGA were introduced Jeff strongly resisted calls for carriers to be banned from breeding and he pointed out often that the biggest threat to a breed (genetically) were the dogs that were never bred from, which leads us on to the dangers of popular sires today.
What we may be seeing regarding these early meetings and any claims, is the well-known occurrence that individuals may recollect events and what was said at the time totally differently or selectively, plus memory may get distorted over time, to the point one could wonder if such accounts were of the same event.
All this is somewhat irrelevant as with further scientific understanding of population genetics, control schemes of the CLAD nature are no longer considered the best way forward and are a thing of the past.
I should perhaps remind everyone about a breed’s Effective Population Size, which is basically the number of individual dogs behind a breed. If the figure is 100 or more then there is sufficient diversity to maintain it and any inbreeding taking place, below 100 problems could be starting to emerge and under 50 could spell danger. The Stafford’s EPS is calculated to be 97 so hence borderline. This is not a cause for concern, but it does indicate that the greatest care must be taken to ensure this figure does not drop which could lead to problems in the future.
At the end of January, we had the seminar entitled ‘The Way Forward’. As seminars go it was a bit rushed, and fortunate to fix a date. It was probably not the success hoped for but whether it was going to fulfil some peoples’ expectations is debatable. I did meet with Bill Lambert and Tom Lewis, now the KC geneticist, at Clarges St and did my best to convey peoples’ concerns and questions. The simple fact is neither I, nor anyone else, can put words in the mouths of others, and it is up to them what their approach is. Bill Lambert’s job is to speak from the KC’s position and while we may have heard a lot of it before, there were one or two valid points that are worthy of consideration. Similarly, with Tom, there was a lot that could be learned if one listened with an open mind. Over the years I have had lot explained about DNA and its workings by Cathryn Mellersh and frankly I thought that Tom by putting some aspects slightly differently complemented her very well. There was certainly much one could learn. All I can say is that the team did its best.
Give a Dog a Genome. I was asked about why the Stafford did not appear on the list of breeds associated with the project although it is there in any tables or graphs published or used in talks. The answer is simple. The AHT already had a Stafford’s DNA (my late Susie’s) which was suitable, so there was no need to submit another sample and support with £1000 donation. The list of breeds published are those who paid the £1000. I now know that there are several other breeds in the same position as Stafford’s for which the AHT already had a suitable DNA sample and do not appear on the lists. However, if anyone feels strongly about the Stafford appearing on the list, they can cough up £1000 and submit a sample from another dog. Anyone rushing to do so?
Lastly, there is nothing more to report on a Breed Health Conservation Plan for the Stafford. As I reported before we should be in the third wave and should be contacted by the KC in the autumn.