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The veterinary school, for example, sees hundreds of domestic dogs and cats with cancer every year. Through that experience veterinary researchers have learned that some breeds are more likely than others to develop certain tumors. That's probably not surprising since it is through selecting for particular characteristics that new breeds are developed and refined. But this selection process may also inadvertently include genes that favor certain types of tumors.

"We have intense interest in studying the genetic basis of these tumors, which like breast cancer in humans, follow familial patterns," said Pedersen, a virologist and immunologist perhaps best known for his work in isolating the feline leukemia virus and feline immunodeficiency virus. "So if we were to learn what causes this predisposition in the animals, we should be able to translate these findings directly to humans," said Pedersen.

To that end, Pedersen and fellow veterinary researchers are pooling their finely honed skills in the area of genetic testing with those of researchers at the UC Davis Cancer Center.

Their world-renowned Veterinary Genetics Laboratory regularly screens more than 90,000 DNA samples a year, including 50,000 to 60,000 equine samples from more than 30 breed registries. While the lab, established in the '50s to establish parentage in cattle, has since switched from blood samples to DNA samples, it maintains a genetics database of nearly 1 million blood types collected for parentage studies on horses, cattle, dogs, goats, sheep, llamas, alpacas and even buffaloes. It has also studied zoo animals and wildlife, including Przewalski's horses, coyotes, mountain lions, beavers, bighorn sheep, deer and elk.

Photo right: Comparative genetics is an important area of research for veterinary scientists like Ann Bowling.


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