Center for Companion Animal Health

Photo:  Brittany dog

Brittany Genetics Research

Brittany Genetic Studies supported by the Marvin D. Nelson Jr. Memorial Fund

The Marvin D. Nelson Jr. Memorial Fund has been endowed at the University of California at Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine, Center for Companion Animal Health (CCAH) in memory of Marvin D. Nelson Jr. who died May 31, 2004. The Nelson family established this memorial as a tribute to the three generations of Nelsons who helped make the breed great. The goal of this program is to establish a substantial endowment which will generate income to support studies that have long-lasting benefits for the Brittany. The purpose is to better understand traits and prevent leading inherited defects, cancer and other genetic diseases related to the Brittany. As of January 2012 more than $54,000 has been given toward this endowment. Monetary donations of $500 or more will be recognized on the Marvin D. Nelson Jr. Memorial Plaque hanging in the CCAH building. Anyone may donate to this endowment, just specify in your donation "support for the CCAH Marvin D. Nelson Memorial Fund." To make a donation please contact the Development Office or download our CCAH contribution form and note in the "comment" box the program to which you want to donate.

As part of this memorial, breeders and owners have been encouraged to submit buccal swabs from their dogs to a Brittany DNA bank.  DNA will be stored indefinitely and used for future and current health studies involving the breed.  Please contact Katy Robertson <> to obtain the necessary buccal swab collection kits with cytology brushes.

Research Support by the Nelson Fund

Income from the Marvin D. Nelson Jr. Memorial Fund and samples from the Brittany DNA bank are supporting two current health related studies:

1. Genetic Diversity in the Brittany and related breeds

The first project is more than one-half completed and will document genetic diversity within the breed and possible relationships between Brittanys and other related breeds, including English Pointer/English Setter, German Shorthaired Pointer (Deutsch-Drahthaar), German Wire Haired Pointer (Deutsch Kurzhaar), and the Red Setter.  This study is being done by Dr. Niels C. Pedersen and Dr. Benjamin Sacks.  Details of their research interests can be found at:

Genetic diversity may not be accurately portrayed by coefficients of inbreeding calculated from pedigrees and it is important therefore to determine actual genetic diversity by analyzing DNA.  We have collected several hundred DNA samples and have analyzed them for: (1) genetic diversity across the genome, (2) documenting the number of paternal and maternal haplotypes (lineages) that still exist in these breeds, and (3) measuring genetic diversity across the region of the genome (on chromosome 12) that encompasses the genes important for regulating immunity.  This latter region is known in all animal species as the major histocompatibility complex (MHC), or in the case of the dog, the dog lymphocyte antigen (DLA) complex.  Data obtained from the Brittany and related breeds will be compared with similar data from a number of other pure breeds of dogs (e.g., Pug Dogs, Italian Greyhound, Standard Poodle) and ancestral indigenous (village) dogs from across Eurasia.  The genetic testing for this study is being done in conjunction with the Veterinary Genetics Laboratory and will be complete by the end of January, 2012.  Once the data is complete, it wil take several months to analyze and to write up in a publication format that can be easily accessed by all breeders.  If this study finds that genetic diversity in the Brittany breed is still quite robust, the information will be important in finding accurate ways to maintain this diversity over the coming decades. 

2. Genetic Defects in Brittanys

Several health problems that may have a genetic basis exist in the breed and others may be recognized in the future.  The DNA bank will be an important resource for researchers dealing with such disorders.  

Cleft palate is a problem in Brittany puppies.  This defect is a research interest of one of our faculty canine geneticicists, Dr. Danika Bannasch, and details of her research can be found at: Cleft palate in dogs and humans has been linked to one of several different genetic defects.  The exact genetic cause of cleft palate in Brittany puppies has yet to be determined.  Therefore, DNA samples are badly needed from affected puppies, and from their healthy siblings and parents for this study.  If enough samples can be obtained, there is a good possibility that the exact genetic cause can be determined and a genetic test developed to identify individuals that carry the abnormal trait.