I-Team: Pet DNA company sends back dog breed results from human sample a second time

BOSTON – Have you ever wondered how accurate those dog breed tests are? The WBZ I-Team put them to the test, and it wasn’t the first time some very surprising results came back.

“I personally do have concerns about the fact that, from a consumer standpoint, you don’t always know what you’re getting when you work with those companies,” said Elinor Karlsson, who’s a geneticist with the Broad Institute and UMass Chan Medical School. “There’s not a lot of rules in this space.”

Karlsson runs a lab called Darwin’s Ark, digging into pet DNA science. It’s an industry on track to be worth $723 million by 2030, according to Zion Market Research.

Last year, the I-Team checked up on commercial DNA testing companies, sending a sample from New Hampshire pet owner Michelle Leininger’s human cheek to a company called DNA My Dog. The results showed she was part bulldog. Leininger joked, “some people would agree with that at times, but no, no,” she said.

Back then, the company’s service director Jessica Barnett responded. “The results provided would not be possible on a human sample.”

Dog DNA test results from human sample

That prompted the I-Team to check a second time. Reporter Christina Hager swabbed her own cheek and sent samples to three different companies.

Orivet reported the sample “…failed to provide the data necessary to perform the breed ID analysis.”

Wisdom Panel sent a message saying the sample “…didn’t provide…enough DNA to produce a reliable result.”

But for a second time, the results from DNA My Dog linked dog breeds to a human sample. The company reported back that Hager was 40% Alaskan Malamute, 35% Shar-Pei, and 25% Labrador.

Results from DNA My Dog from a human sample / Credit: CBS Boston

Results from DNA My Dog from a human sample / Credit: CBS Boston

DNA My Dog gives each sample a unique ID# to track samples and keep them straight. We contacted the Toronto-based company again. This time, despite repeated attempts, DNA My Dog did not respond.

Importance of pet genetics

Karlsson hopes it doesn’t hurt people’s interest in pet genetics. She said the science does have important value when it’s done right. “We might be able to figure out which dogs are at risk of getting cancer, and screen them more often and be able to diagnose it earlier,” Karlsson said. “We might be able to develop new treatments for that cancer.”

She said pet owners should know the field of research has a long way to go. That’s why she hopes more will donate DNA to her academic lab, Darwin’s Ark. 

The bigger the database, which she’s making public and anonymous, she says the closer the science comes to unlocking the mysteries under all that fur.

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