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Princeton researchers with the Dog Aging Project study how genes and the environment influence aging

<h5>Copper the dog</h5>
<h6>Courtesy of Danielle Capparella</h6>
Copper the dog
Courtesy of Danielle Capparella

Researchers at the University and other institutions are investigating the human aging process by studying dogs. 

Professor Joshua Akey of the Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics is a member of the team of scientists behind the Dog Aging Project (DAP). The project is a long-term multi-institutional research endeavor meant to, in Akey’s words, “better understand the genetic determinants of aging and how genes and the environment interact to influence aging.” 

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Akey told The Daily Princetonian that the Project originally got started at the University of Washington, when his lab was there. Many of the people who run the DAP are still based there — but the team itself represents a collaboration between 27 institutions from around the world. 

William Thistlethwaite, a third year PhD candidate in the quantitative and computational biology program at Princeton, explained that studying dogs opens up opportunities to examine certain aspects of human diseases and aging processes. 

Thistlethwaite stressed that just because there are similarities between humans and dogs doesn’t mean that the group’s results will necessarily apply to humans.

“But because of things I mentioned,” he continued, “we are confident, hopeful and optimistic, that, you know, the results we find will be applicable.”

DAP is working to collect genetic information from more than 10,000 dogs for a variety of studies. Akey told the ‘Prince’ that one part of the project will focus on a “whole-genome sequencing data to study the genetic basis of many different age-related diseases,” while another “will identify dogs with exceptional longevity and try to understand what aspects of their DNA contributed to their long life.” 

Dog owners can submit their pets to be considered as a part of the Dog Aging Project Pack online. In order to sign up, owners have to fill out a survey that asks for various information, such as their pet’s diet and location. Thistlethwaite explained that the project can control for such differences in dog environments, and emphasized that they’re a positive aspect of the research.

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“[W]e kind of can ask some really interesting questions because we have that information,” he said. “I think [it] is a very positive thing to have that diversity of environment, and breed background and all of those things. [H]aving that diversity is actually a really good thing.”

Hope Perry is a News contributor, as well as the Head Podcast Editor at the 'Prince' who has covered USG, University COVID-19 policies, and US politics. She can be reached at hperry@princeton.edu or on Twitter @hopemperry.

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