Become a part of the largest pet citizen science project in the world!

Frequently Asked Questions

What Does it Mean to Participate in Darwin’s Ark?

The Darwin’s Ark (and Darwin’s Dogs) project combines genetics and behavior to inform all manner of scientific study.

Participating means answering survey questions about your pet, and then, if you like, receiving a DNA kit so that you can send in a saliva sample. We’ll sequence the DNA from the saliva and send you genetic and ancestry information about your pet. That information will also be added to our enormous data bank of information, to be shared freely throughout the scientific world.

Are you accepting all pets for Darwin’s Ark participation?

Not yet. Right now, Darwin’s Dogs is currently the only active Ark project for pets. Cats will be next, we hope, and our plan is to have all other pet species eventually follow.

We’re also studying information about ticks and tick-borne diseases, and anyone can participate in that by collecting and sending ticks in to Project Acari here.

Are you still accepting dogs for the project?

Yes! We continuously accept new dogs to enroll and participate. Each dog is unique behaviorally and genetically, so we want as many participants as possible!

Can my mixed-breed or purebred dog participate?

Absolutely! We are interested in all dogs. The unique genetic profiles that characterize purebreds offer insight into the role of genetics on phenotype. Mixed breeds most likely have more shuffling of those phenotypes, so they can help us identify specific changes in genes that affect health and behavior.

I have more than one dog. Which one should I enroll?

All of them! Our research is based on studying a very large number of dogs, so we love meeting people who own more than one.

What if I’m not a US resident?

We are an international project, and we welcome all dogs.

ANSWERING SURVEYS

Do I need to do the surveys to participate?

The survey answers are incredibly important to our work. You’ll qualify for a free DNA Kit once you have completed at least 10 surveys.

Those purchasing Trailblazer and Explorer level kits do not need to answer survey questions to get their results, but we sure would like those answers, and we offer discounted sequencing for those who do answer the surveys.

Can I edit my answers to survey questions?

Yes, but we prefer that you don’t! We love the spontaneous responses people give that tell a lot about their pets.  We ask that you only change the answers if you misunderstood a question and know you answered it wrong.

GETTING A DNA KIT

Free Kit Level – No Charge

All participants are entitled to DNA Kits as funding allows, pending grant awards and completion of at least 10 short surveys by participants. Once we’re able to sequence your dog’s sample, we’ll send you a DNA Kit free of charge.  Unfortunately, we can’t guarantee any time frame for sending these kits, and either kits or results may take years.

 

Explorer Level – $249 (discounted to $149 upon completion of 10 short surveys)

With your donation of $249, we can can send you a DNA Kit immediately. Your dog’s DNA will be sent to our partner lab, who will include your dog’s DNA in the next batch of 20 Explorer level samples received, allowing us to return your dog’s DNA results more quickly. We can’t give exact timing, but first results are likely to come in between 90 and 120 days of receipt of the 20 samples needed to sequence the batch.

 

Trailblazer Level – $2,199 (discounted to $1,999 upon completion of 10 short surveys)

Be the foundation upon which knowledge is built. With your donation of $2,199, your dog will join an elite group of fewer than 1,000 dogs worldwide with a complete DNA sequence, informing scientists world-wide in the advancement and study of canine and human health.

Trailblazer level contributors’ samples will be sent to the Broad Institute lab for immediate sequencing. Your dog’s full genome will be sequenced at “30x coverage,” which means each of the 2.4 billion bases (A, C, G, T) is sequenced on average thirty times to ensure accuracy.

You’ll be notified of your dog’s DNA results, and you’ll receive a personalized certificate of scientific contribution with your dog’s ancestry results from the Darwin’s Ark scientists at UMass Medical School, and the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT. If you wish, your dog will also be highlighted on our website.

ONCE YOU GET A DNA KIT

I just got a DNA kit for one of my dogs. Can I use it on another dog?

No. It is extremely important that you use the DNA kit you receive on the dog it is intended for. If the sample and dog information don’t match, the genetic results will be assigned to the wrong dog in your profile. If the assigned dog has died or for some reason no longer lives with you, please contact us at support@DarwinsArk.org.

How do I collect a saliva sample for DNA analysis?

It’s easy! We provide instructions and a video to guide you through the process.

Can I send you other samples from my dog, such as blood?

No. We only accept DNA donations via our saliva kits.

How Many Genetic Markers are you Testing Per Dog DNA Sample?

We’re currently testing over 4 million genetic markers per sample! This depth of information is not available anywhere else, and offers a remarkable opportunity to improve the health of dogs and their humans now and in the future.

How Long Will It Take to Get My Dog’s Results?

Exact timing of results will depend on what level plan you’ve chosen, and how many other people have signed up for the same level, as DNA Kits must be run in batches (except for our Trailblazer level, which is run individually, as a full genome sequence).

This is true citizen science, and like most scientists, we’re waiting for funding. We hope to send (and sequence) free DNA Kits for all eligible participants. We have a busy grant writing team always seeking funding. However, it will take quite some time, even years, for grants to be awarded that allow us to pay for DNA Kits for all participating dogs.

Keep in mind that we’re a scientific “club” of co-experimenters with you! Your results may arrive in stages, with genetic data and breed reports coming in first, and interpretation and further ancestry results later in the process. You will also have access to your dog’s complete sequence data (the “raw” data) at any time.  

A good guesstimate of wait for the Explorer paid level time is 90 to 120 days for first results. The free DNA Kits will take much longer, possibly more than a year at this point in our funding. Once you receive a Darwin’s Ark free DNA Kit, it will be processed in about the same timeline as the Explorer level kits. Please know that we cannot guarantee any timeline at this point in the scientific study.

WHAT TO EXPECT FROM YOUR DOG’S RESULTS

Will you tell me about my dog’s breed ancestry?

For starters, we’ll be able to tell you what breeds are in your dog’s past, provided those breeds are in our reference panels. As more dogs participate, our breed ancestry analysis will delve deeper into the history of your dog’s genetics. This means that you might in the future get updated reports with adjusted or additional breed contributions to your dog’s ancestry as our 4,000,000+ markers are better and better defined. By contributing to Darwin’s Ark, you are helping us move the science of breed analysis forward – and science is fluid, sometimes frustrating, and always interesting as it grows!

Will you tell me about my dog's health?

No. Darwin’s Ark does not offer predictive health results.

We feel strongly that only well-validated science be included in our reports to dog owners. We also feel strongly that health tests that are offered for dogs should meet the same quality standards as those required in human medicine. To date, they do not meet those standards.

We caution you that, for now, the best way to learn about your dog’s health is not via a genetic study such as ours, but to talk with your veterinarian if you have concerns.

What breeds are in your reference panel?

Breed results for your dog will continue to improve in accuracy as our reference panel grows.

Breeds we can currently call in our analysis are as follows:

  • Afghan Hound
  • Airedale Terrier
  • Akita
  • Alaskan Malamute
  • Australian Cattle Dog
  • Australian Shepherd
  • Basenji
  • Basset Hound
  • Beagle
  • Belgian Tervuren
  • Bernese Mountain Dog
  • Bichon Frise
  • Bloodhound
  • Border Collie
  • Border Terrier
  • Borzoi
  • Boston Terrier
  • Boxer
  • Brittany
  • Bull Terrier
  • Bulldog
  • Bullmastiff
  • Cairn Terrier
  • Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
  • Chesapeake Bay Retriever
  • Chihuahua
  • Chinese Crested
  • Chow Chow
  • Cocker Spaniel
  • Collie
  • Dachshund
  • Dalmatian
  • Doberman Pinscher
  • English Cocker Spaniel
  • English Setter
  • English Springer Spaniel
  • Finnish Spitz
  • French Bulldog
  • German Shepherd Dog
  • German Shorthaired Pointer
  • Golden Retriever
  • Gordon Setter
  • Great Dane
  • Great Pyrenees
  • Greater Swiss Mountain Dog
  • Greyhound
  • Havanese
  • Irish Setter
  • Irish Wolfhound
  • Italian Greyhound
  • Jack Russell Terrier
  • Labrador Retriever
  • Leonberger
  • Lhasa Apso
  • Maltese
  • Mastiff
  • Miniature Pinscher
  • Miniature Schnauzer
  • Newfoundland
  • Norfolk Terrier
  • Norwegian Elkhound
  • Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever
  • Old English Sheepdog
  • Papillon
  • Pekingese
  • Pembroke Welsh Corgi
  • Pomeranian
  • Poodle
  • Portuguese Water Dog
  • Pug
  • Rhodesian Ridgeback
  • Rottweiler
  • Saint Bernard
  • Samoyed
  • Schipperke
  • Scottish Terrier
  • Shar Pei
  • Shetland Sheepdog
  • Shiba Inu
  • Shih Tzu
  • Siberian Husky
  • Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier
  • Staffordshire Bull Terrier
  • Tibetan Spaniel
  • Tibetan Terrier
  • Toy Poodle
  • Vizsla
  • Weimaraner
  • West Highland White Terrier
  • Whippet
  • Wire Fox Terrier
  • Wirehaired Pointing Griffon
  • Yorkshire Terrier

ABOUT US

Who is running this project?

The Darwin’s Ark Foundation is a registered non-profit organization dedicated to improving the health of pets and their people through science.

The Darwin’s Ark project is staffed by members of the Karlsson Lab at the UMass Medical School and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC).

We’re committed to open science, and the data we produce is shared with all interested researchers worldwide.

Do you accept donations?

Yes! We are committed to keeping the Darwin’s Ark project free to anyone who is willing to participate, but research is expensive. We would love your help, either by purchasing a DNA kit for your own dog or by a donation to support our research.

Is my donation tax deductible?

Yes – soon!! While we are incorporated and registered as a non-profit, but we are still awaiting our IRS Letter of Determination that allows donors to deduct their gifts. All our paperwork will be completed by July and then it’s up to the IRS to approve our filing. We expect (but can’t guarantee) that your donation will be tax deductible by the end of the year.

OUR GOALS AND YOUR CONTRIBUTION

What is the goal of Darwin’s Ark?

Darwin’s Ark seeks to better understand the genetic influences on how dogs look and behave. We ask questions about canine behavior and about the genes controlling all sorts of canine traits, from size to coat color to shyness to interest in play. This is a very long term study, and we hope that as it progresses, our findings will help to better understand how genetics affect dog personality, health and sensitivities. To do this study, we need a massive number of dogs, and we’re asking for your help!

What will you learn from my dog’s DNA?

We will look at many places in the genome (millions of them!) and see whether we can find differences in the DNA that match up with differences in phenotype (i.e., how the dog looks and acts, or if it suffers from any diseases). In other words, we’re trying to match up the unknowns about behavior, diseases, and traits with the unknowns about genetics in a way that can provide new information for both fields. To do this successfully, we need many dogs – thousands or even tens of thousands!

How can I contribute to Darwin’s Ark?

Sign up your dog and tell your friends and family! Answer our survey questions about your dog – that provides us with tons of helpful data. Finally, we are always seeking donations to help us analyze more DNA.

What will you learn from my dog’s survey questions?

The data collected from our surveys are a crucial part of our research, and show us a fascinating aspect of dogs not seen through the microscope. We use our survey data to answer questions such as “are Labrador retrievers really more interested in food than other breeds?” and “are anxious dogs more likely to have allergies?” and  “what kinds of personality traits tend to go together?” These questions are scientifically interesting on their own, but also help us develop theories about what’s going on at the genetic level.