The Results: Bruce's Genome

13 September 2019

Interview with 

Julian Gehring and Ursula Arndt, Illumina


Bruce the puppy has his mouth swabbed outside Illumina.


Machines have been whirring and computers have been computing to sequence the genes of Bruce the black lab puppy. Now his results are in. Our correspondent Amelia Smith went back to meet Illumina scientists Julian Gehring and Ursula Arndt. What secrets do Bruce's DNA hold?

Julian - Bruce's genome is like a massive book, like several copies of the Harry Potter series in a way. But what we get out of the sequencer are like very short fragments of the text, like individual words or fragments of a sentence. Now in order to analyse that what we try to do is put the text together, in a way.

Amelia - So you basically put the book back together with all the sentences and chapters in the right place?

Julian - Exactly. That's what we do. And the way we do it is that we have a template of how an average dog genome could look like, and with this as a template we can take these individual pieces, these individual fragments, and put them all together in place. We can then look for what we call variation or alterations in the genome, which will then tell us how Bruce's genome is different from that of an average dog.

Amelia - What did this actually show you? What did you find?

Ursula - What we found is that your puppy looks like a labrador, and genetically looks a lot like a labrador as well.

Amelia - So what's the likelihood of Bruce being descended from a wolf?

Julian - He's much closer to a wolf than he is for example to a cat or a human. That's what we could see in the data. And by looking at different dog breeds we could see for example that huskies are still rather similar to wolves; then afterwards come a bit labradors, which are in the middle; and then very distinct from wolves are then dog breeds like pugs or chihuahuas or terriers.

Amelia - So what other things did you find in Bruce’s saliva?

Ursula - That's a really good question. So we were really interested in that. Most of the DNA was dog but there was a little bit of bacteria in there as well. Most of the bacteria are just normal, and we found a little bit of plant potentially, which makes sense because he's been chewing on stuff while we were sampling, right. We didn't find as much bacteria that we had kind of anticipated. Bruce is only 12 weeks old so I think his microbiome might still be developing until he's an adult, just like with human children.

Julian - I think if you look at the dataset of Bruce now and the understanding of his genome it's probably the best-sequenced dog we have at the moment. So there’s probably more interesting stuff to find in his genome. The next thing we have to do is find the cuteness gene and figure out why he looks so cute and cuddly.

Amelia - Thank you very much for doing what you've done with Bruce's DNA.


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