The VGL is actively engaged in research endeavors to improve breeding programs, animal health, and conservation efforts of a wide range of species including domestic species, natural wildlife, and colony-maintained populations.

Pioneers in Veterinary Genetics Research

Research at the VGL - processing sample
Image credit: Don Preisler

Genetics testing and research are vibrant, cutting-edge components of the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. Genes, environment, and their interaction play critical roles in animal health and disease, and our scientists are continuously breaking new ground and deepening our understanding of the animal world through advancements in this exciting field.

Genetics research not only furthers understanding of which animals are at risk for particular diseases, but ongoing discoveries can also lead to the development of diagnostic tests and potential therapies for treatment, resulting in earlier disease intervention and improved health outcomes.

For decades, the VGL has been actively involved in research that contributed to the understanding of the horse, dog, and cat genomes, well before sequencing genomes was possible. Research at the VGL laid the groundwork for mapping of the horse genome that later was essential in developing the first horse reference genome sequence. The sequencing of many animal genomes has helped to develop powerful tools with which to investigate inherited traits and diseases. These resources empower researchers with the ability to investigate novel genetic mutations and help connect basic science with clinical sciences, thus enabling a better understanding of genetic defects and disease susceptibilities across species. Each research discovery accelerates our understanding of animal diseases, which in turn can provide vital information about related human diseases.

As we learn more about the genes involved in diseases and other traits, new questions about gene interaction and gene-environment interactions arise. To begin to address these questions, it is necessary for us to gain more knowledge about how genes are regulated. Only a small percentage of an animal's DNA is made up of genes that code for proteins. Current work is focused on understanding the role of regions of the DNA that do not code for protein. In particular, scientist are working to discover how these non-coding regions regulate genes in a tissue-specific manner and how this regulation enables the complexity of life and variability in traits with in a population. The VGL is actively involved in research projects to investigate and identify these regulator elements in the genome as part of the coordinated international effort known as Functional Annotation of Animal Genomes (FAANG). As we gain more knowledge about the role these regulatory regions play in inheritance, we will be able to further connect changes in the DNA to phenotypes. This work will lead to a better understanding of how changes in the DNA contribute to the variability that exists in populations for things like disease susceptibility and severity.

Research at the VGL

Research - Looking at a Horse
Image credit: Katy Robertson

The Veterinary Genetics Laboratory has many ongoing projects to investigate both simple traits (those caused by single genes) and complex traits (those caused by many genes or gene-environment interactions) in a variety of domestic species, including horse, donkey, dog, cat, and camelids, among others. For example, we have long been involved in investigating pigmentation traits—often breed-defining characteristics in domestic animals—across species. Being a part of the School of Veterinary Medicine, we often team up with our clinical specialist colleagues to investigate inherited diseases (for example, diseases that impact vision, skin, neurological function, the heart, and the immune system).

We also have a long history of studying population genetics and in particular employing multiple methodologies to investigate genetic diversity within and between populations, both in domestic animals and wildlife. Further, our Mammalian Ecology and Conservation Unit is focused specifically on wildlife populations and conducts research that advances both the persistence of wild mammal biodiversity and our basic understanding of mammal evolution and ecology.

For a current list of projects, please see each researcher's page. To ask questions of our research group or to enroll in a study, please e-mail our research team.