By 2030, genome sequencing will replace the use of RFID microchipping for pet identification. Since 6 April 2016, microchipping in dogs has become compulsory in a bid by the government to try and reduce numbers of lost and stray dogs in the UK. By law, all puppies must be microchipped by 8 weeks of age, with the theory that the microchip can subsequently be scanned to retrieve contact details of an owner should their dog get lost or stolen. Significant limitations to the microchip however - incorrect implantation, incorrect documentation and crude attempts to surgically remove microchips in stolen animals – means that both vets and owners are now actively pursuing an alternative in animal identification.
Is the veterinary market ready?
In recent years, the veterinary industry has seen a massive rise in popularity in genetic testing with the general public, with Mars Veterinary reporting to have run around 800,000 tests in the last 10 years. According to CB insights, investors poured $486 million into pet tech start-ups from 2012-2016, and pet owners in the UK spent an approximate £11.6 billion on pet products in 2017. Currently in the UK, to genome sequence a dog costs £30, with owners receiving results after 2 weeks. The sequence data can then be stored in a database for use throughout the entirety of the animal’s lifetime. A microchip currently costs an owner around £20-30 in a private veterinary clinic. With the recent surge in popularity of genetic testing and owners seeking premiumisation of pet products, prices of testing will decrease significantly with increased demand, with a full genome test costing as little as $2-$5 by 2030. This competitive pricing combined with the ease of testing makes genome sequencing an attractive replacement for pet owners, which in turn will make RFID-dependant pet products completely redundant.
Why genome sequencing?
Many companies and laboratories now offer genetic tests to test animals for their parentage, breed and to test for predisposition to hundreds of inherited diseases. In particular, genome profiling, otherwise commonly referred to as DNA profiling, has become popular due to its ability to create a DNA profile for an animal that is totally unique, with the exception of identical twins. By using DNA markers that contain short repeating sequences of DNA known as micro-satellites, a whole genome sequence can be created for each individual through polymerase chain reaction testing, based on the individual’s unique variation of repeats of each DNA marker.
Ultimately the biggest driver towards the future success of genome sequencing is the fact that DNA samples required can be collected from animals simply using a buccal swab. Due to the completely non-invasive nature of this procedure (unlike with microchipping), pet owners will undeniably be more willing to comply. Samples can be taken from animals of any age, and do not require veterinary intervention – both lowering costs and making identification easier for pet owners. DNA profiling is beginning to become compulsory all over the globe, such as in Malaga, Mislata, Barking and Dagenham.
So what can we expect in the future?
Fast-forward to 2030. No more traumatising puppies on their first visit to the vets with a huge needle. No more stickers with bar codes and paper forms to fill out and post every time you want to change address. Imagine a passer-by on the street finds a dog. No longer will they need to bring the dog to the vets to get scanned, wait for the vet to pull data from a database, wait for the vets to call the owner who potentially hasn’t changed their details since they last moved house because it’s such a hassle. No, we’re talking swab from its mouth, process the sample using their smartphone, automated message sent directly to the owner, pet and owner re-united.