A new canine DNA test will be available sometime this spring through Embark Veterinary Inc., a startup company that officially launched in mid March. The Austin, Texas-based company aims to shake up the dog DNA testing market by bringing cutting-edge science and insights directly to pet owners, according to co-founders Adam Boyko, Ph.D., chief science officer and assistant professor of Biomedical Sciences at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, and Ryan Boyko, chief executive officer.
The brother team has spent the past decade learning about dogs, everything from the inception of the human-canine bond to the best ways in which to care for these four-legged friends. In the course of their quest to understand the domestic dog, they have discovered many of the things that make every breed and every individual dog unique. This led to breakthrough research on the origin of the domestic dog near Central Asia more than 15,000 years ago.
The Embark DNA Test will track more than 200,000 genetic markers, offering ancestry analysis as well as an extensive overview of both genetic disease risk and heritable traits, allowing users to understand their dog’s health, plan for their pet’s future and provide their dog with the best personalized care possible, according to the company.
Although the DNA test is directed to consumers—pet owners can preorder the genetic test at embarkvet.com—the company itself has many ties to the veterinary community. For instance, Embark Veterinary is a research partner of Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine.
“Cornell has been a huge supporter of canine genomics, and we’ve licensed discoveries made at Cornell to power our test, worked with the Cornell Veterinary Biobank to validate our test and set up ways to work with Cornell researchers to further genetic studies in dogs,” said Dr. Adam Boyko.
This is one way Embark Veterinary differentiates itself from other companies offering dog genetic tests, according to Ryan Boyko.
“Embark is a wellness service, and the only canine genetics testing company offering comprehensive, research-grade genetic results,” he said. “Not only do owners get a comprehensive picture of their dog’s DNA (health conditions, traits and ancestry), but they also get to be a part of cutting-edge research to expand our understanding of dog health, behavior and genetics. They can take part in the community of Embark users and, as we discover new things, learn more and more about their dog (a lifetime service).”
The Embark Dog DNA Test uses a saliva sample, not blood, to generate results, meaning pet owners can conduct the test in their own home with the provided cheek swab. Embark Veterinary maintains that its genetic platform and results are very consistent between saliva-derived DNA and blood-derived DNA.
“We are in the final stages of quality control now, but similar technology we and other companies have worked with using the same supplier suggests an accuracy rate in line with human consumer genetic testing which have a greater than 99 percent call rate and a greater than 99.9 percent reproducibility rate,” said Ryan Boyko.
The test report will include more than 100 genetic health conditions as well as more than a dozen traits and ancestry information, but the company can’t release more specific details until the final stages of quality control are completed later this spring, Ryan Boyko said. The price of the product will be announced during that time as well, he said, although it’s expected to be in line with other consumer-based genetic tests on the market.
When asked why not focus on a professional-based product that requires a veterinary visit, Ryan Boyko responded, “We want to make genetics accessible to consumers. While we encourage users to discuss their results with their veterinarian before making any major changes in their pet’s care, much of the information Embark provides is highly educational and interesting. We want people to feel like they understand their dog better, not that they just got another lab test.”
However, Ryan Boyko added that the report is tailored to help veterinarians find and understand information about their client’s given pet. Embark Veterinary is working with veterinarians and geneticists to fine tune this aspect.
“While we do not anticipate offering a separate test for veterinarians in the near term, we are piloting a program to allow veterinarians to sell our tests at their clinics, collecting the saliva sample at the clinic,” Ryan Boyko said. “We are also currently working on educational materials to provide veterinarians to help interpret test results.”
Additionally, Embark Veterinary would like to work with veterinarians on various research projects.
“We have some research projects that we would like to find vets to collaborate with us on, including nutrition projects and dental health projects we’re planning,” Ryan Boyko said. “Cancer and hip dysplasia are other active areas of research interested veterinarians could reach out to us to discuss. Veterinarians with genetics backgrounds should also reach out to us if they’re interested in part-time employment opportunities.”
Other future company plans include establishing partnerships with animal shelters and breeders.
“We do know that in some cases breeders would benefit from some additional information that would help them make breeding decisions and we are developing and testing those,” Ryan Boyko said. “We are also looking into shelter partnerships that would enable us to develop tests most helpful to animal shelters.”
Veterinarians interested in participating with Embark, can email firstname.lastname@example.org.