Determining if your dog is more Labrador than poodle isn’t the only reason to test their DNA. A citizen science project called Darwin’s Dogs is looking at the genetic information of pups to better understand mental illness in humans, and they’re calling upon pet owners to send them DNA samples taken from their canine companions, Science News reports.

Dogs and people actually share a number of health issues, which is what makes the pet a popular choice with health researchers. Studies involving purebred dogs have helped shed light on the genetics of illnesses like narcolepsy, cancer, and blindness in the past.

Purebreds are a helpful subject when looking at issues that can be traced back to a single gene mutation, but less so when looking at behavioral problems caused by a complex cocktail of genes and environment. For their initiative, Darwin’s Dogs hopes to gather a large sampling of both purebreds and genetically diverse mutts to study how genes impact behavior in humans and pooches. The project’s leader, University of Massachusetts Medical School geneticist Elinor Karlsson, told Science News: “It seemed to me that if we could understand how [changes in DNA] make a dog so excited about chasing a ball, we could learn something about how our brains work and what goes wrong in psychiatric disease.”

So far, more than 7500 dogs are signed up to take part. You can get involved in the project by visiting darwinsdogs.org. After answering questions like, "Where does your dog sleep at night?" and "How much time do they spend digging each day?" you'll be sent a DNA sampling kit. From there, the hardest part may be getting your dog to sit still for measurements and a mouth swab. Then you mail the kit in.

In return, you'll eventually receive your pet’s raw genetic data and ancestry information. Darwin’s Dogs warns that the process may take a while, but impatient owners can take comfort in the fact that they’re aiding in the scientific process. And unlike with other canine DNA tests, the genetic analysis from Darwin's Dogs is completely free.  

[h/t Science News]

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