Up at 5AM: The 5AM Solutions Blog

DNA Testing: Gone to the Dogs?

Posted on Thu, Jul 14, 2011 @ 02:26 PM

First, a quick reading assignment...


If you don't have the time to check the link (and I know most of you don't), there is now simple, inexpensive DNA testing developed specifically for dog droppings, to identify violators of “leave no mess behind” rules and regulations in residential areas. The Reuters story in the link draws attention to an example of a New England apartment manager when, fed up with scat left about her property, she decided to enlist DNA technology to find the violator(s) and solve the problem: Enter "PooPrints," developed by BioPet Vet Labs.

How does PooPrints work? Managers basically require that every new pet that moves in provide a cheek swab so their doggy DNA can be extracted and entered into the database. As time passes--and offending piles are dropped about the property and left behind--the property manager collects "gumball-sized amounts" (gross) of the #2 in question, mailing those samples in to the testing facility. The lab runs said samples against their database, and the guilty pooches (rather, their naughty people) are instantly identified. Then the owners are hit with pretty hefty fines—upwards of $1,000 in some referenced cases. And the accuracy rate is listed at 99.9%, so good luck explaining that one away when the DNA results are revealed... <dog howls in painful denial of the truth>.

It seems that unsanitary, unsavory conditions are a big enough deal to some property managers that they are ready and willing to take CSI-style investigation into their own hands (rather, into their zip lock bags). But there are much more interesting examples of DNA harvesting a la scat that carry weight. In one study--found here--researchers aim to assess distribution, abundance, and broad movement patterns of snow leopards in Bhutan using non-invasive genetic analyses of DNA found in scat samples. This method allows biologists to carefully collect not only conventional population metrics but also genetic information in a more passive manner, ideal for such creatures. Combining geo-referencing, scat sampling, and DNA analysis, they are assessing both distribution and abundance of the creatures, also allowing them to estimate minimum population size and effective population size, and to document the presence or absence of population structure and gene flow.

Though the scientific research possibilities are exciting and encouraging, my simplistic mind wanders back to the sidewalk-scientist doo-doo tester… Will it one day become illegal to snatch up dog poo without the express written consent of the owner? Will the testing, sampling and processing (yuck) procedures become inadmissible because they were not handled by experts in the field? Will any accused try to take the legal route and challenge the findings based upon such technicalities? The imagination just runs wild on this topic and the hours of due process (or shall I say... "doo" process…bad, I know) it might create.

Bottom line is that whether for legitimate scientific research or even for what seems like such a trivial thing as dog droppings left behind on a sidewalk, simple DNA testing is rapidly finding its way into the hands of anyone who wants it—Even common folks with a “need to know” like you and me. No longer limiting the boundaries of test technology to weighty matters or prohibitive price points, nor limiting testers themselves to being highly educated professionals with years of training, this application of backyard science is interesting to be sure. This mainstreaming could begin to translate into widespread DIY investigations all over the place, for all kinds of purposes.

I can almost see/hear the infomercial for a garden variety, mass produced at-home kit: “So easy, even your kids can do it! Just grab your sample, place in our patented “Who-Dunnit” sample pouch, drop in the mail using the postage-paid envelope provided, then sit back and get ready to prove that guilt!” Proof positive for all… And beyond a shad-doo of a doubt, no less, at least in the case of PooPrints. I know…That was bad, but I couldn’t resist.


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