Em­bark Vet­eri­nary will tell you more about your dog than you ever thought pos­si­ble

Em­bark’s ge­netic kits test dogs’ health, be­hav­ior, and pedi­gree “We can trace the … line back to the dawn of dogs”

Bloomberg Businessweek (Europe) - - CONTENTS - −Emily An­thes

For Ryan and Adam Boyko, dog drool is a fam­ily busi­ness. Over the past decade, the brothers have trav­eled the globe, fetch­ing thou­sands of saliva sam­ples from pups in Croa­tia, Fiji, In­dia, Peru, Qatar, Uganda, and a dozen other coun­tries. They car­ried the sam­ples back to Adam’s ge­net­ics lab at Cor­nell Univer­sity, where they scoured the DNA for clues about the his­tory and evo­lu­tion of man’s best friend.

Now the Boykos want to ex­pand the pack. By the end of spring, they say, their new ca­nine ge­net­ics com­pany, Em­bark Vet­eri­nary, will be­gin sell­ing test­ing kits de­signed to give U.S. dog own­ers sci­en­tific in­sight into their pets’ health, be­hav­ior, and an­ces­try. (Think 23andMe for the furry, four-legged set.) Us­ing that data, the com­pany also plans to learn more about over­all ca­nine health and be­hav­ior. “We’re in­ter­ested not only in re­turn­ing in­for­ma­tion to own­ers but ac­tu­ally im­prov­ing the way dog ge­netic re­search is done,” says Adam, Em­bark’s chief sci­ence of­fi­cer and an as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor at Cor­nell’s vet­eri­nary col­lege, the startup’s re­search part­ner.

Em­bark’s $199 ge­netic test will screen dogs for more than 200,000 ge­netic mark­ers and re­port the re­sults to own­ers through its web­site or app. The data will in­clude de­tails about dozens of phys­i­cal traits, like how much a puppy is likely to shed and its pre­dicted adult size, as well as its risk for more than 100 dif­fer­ent med­i­cal con­di­tions. Em­bark will also de­ter­mine the dog’s breed com­po­si­tion and ge­o­graphic ori­gin. “We can trace the pa­ter­nal and ma­ter­nal line back to the dawn of dogs,” says Ryan, chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer.

Em­bark’s app will sur­vey cus­tomers about their dogs’ lives, be­hav­iors, and med­i­cal his­to­ries. As its cus­tomer base grows, Em­bark plans to sift through this data in search of new con­nec­tions be­tween DNA and health or be­hav­ior. Is there a cer­tain ge­netic vari­ant that ag­gres­sive dogs tend to share? Do yap­pers have dif­fer­ent DNA than howlers? “We know ab­so­lutely noth­ing about the ge­net­ics of bark­ing,” says Adam. Cus­tomers will re­ceive up­dates about new dis­cov­er­ies, says Matt Bar­ton, chief tech­ni­cal of­fi­cer.

The com­pany’s re­search could also have im­pli­ca­tions for hu­man medicine. Many of the ge­netic mu­ta­tions that un­der­lie com­mon dog dis­eases—from can­cer to com­pul­sive dis­or­der— have been linked to sim­i­lar con­di­tions in

peo­ple. And thanks to gen­er­a­tions of se­lec­tive breed­ing, a small num­ber of genes ex­plains much of the vari­a­tion be­tween in­di­vid­ual dogs, which means it’s of­ten eas­ier to iden­tify the genes re­spon­si­ble for com­plex traits in dogs than it is in hu­mans.

Af­ter li­cens­ing their ini­tial sam­ple data­base from Cor­nell, the Boyko brothers in­cor­po­rated Em­bark last year. Co-founders in­clude ge­neti­cist Spencer Wells, who led a decade-long study of hu­man mi­gra­tion based on DNA sam­ples, and Ryan’s col­lege buddy Matt Salzberg, CEO of sub­scrip­tion-meal com­pany Blue Apron. Em­bark, which has eight em­ploy­ees and is based in Austin, has raised $1.8 mil­lion in ven­ture fund­ing to fur­ther re­fine its prod­ucts. With more than 70 mil­lion pet dogs in the U.S. and some 7 mil­lion new pups ac­quired each year, the ser­vice’s po­ten­tial mar­ket is huge.

Like the 23andMes of the world, Em­bark is stop­ping shy of pro­vid­ing med­i­cal ad­vice. It’s not giv­ing di­ag­noses and en­cour­ages cus­tomers to dis­cuss test re­sults with their vets. It’s also not the first to pitch con­sumers on ca­nine ge­netic tests. Paw Print Ge­net­ics sells a $150 kit that screens dogs for more than 150 dif­fer­ent dis­eases and traits. CEO Lisa Shaf­fer says Em­bark’s model is in­ter­est­ing, but it isn’t clear whether the com­pany’s pri­or­ity will be re­search or re­turn­ing use­ful in­for­ma­tion to own­ers. Em­bark says its depth of data anal­y­sis, along with the app and its more thor­ough test­ing panel, set it apart from cheaper ri­vals, which also in­clude Mars Vet­eri­nary and DNA My Dog.

Later this year, the Boykos plan to add fea­tures that al­low cus­tomers to con­nect with other dog own­ers whose pets have sim­i­lar ge­netic back­grounds, be­hav­ioral traits, or med­i­cal prob­lems. Even­tu­ally, the com­pany ex­pects to link up with breed­ers to help them make matches that re­duce the like­li­hood of pup­pies in­her­it­ing disease-caus­ing mu­ta­tions in the first place. “We would like to be do­ing re­search that’s ben­e­fit­ing, ideally, mil­lions of dogs,” Ryan says. In­clud­ing, per­haps, those that haven’t been born yet. The bot­tom line Em­bark says its DNA test can as­sess a dog’s risk for more than 100 dif­fer­ent med­i­cal con­di­tions.

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