Dr Mateja Janeš on canine genetics

She talks about how she bridges the gap between scientists and dog breeders to help them breed healthier puppies, how she participated in an experiment in Croatia using bees to detect bombs, which landed her on the cover of the magazine, and how misinformation is one of the biggest challenges of our time.

Mateja graduated in Animal Science ( BS ) and Genetics and Animal Breeding ( MS ) from the Faculty of Agriculture at the University of Zagreb in Croatia, where she also started her PhD in Agricultural Science. During her PhD, she worked at the same faculty mainly on topics related to beekeeping and cynology. As a PhD student, she spent three years in the Department of Animal Science at the Faculty of Biotechnology at the University of Ljubljana in Slovenia, where she worked on population genetics of dogs.

Currently, Mateja is working as a postdoctoral researcher in a Highlander lab at the Roslin Institute on two projects. One project is titled "New Tools for Reducing the Inbreeding Rates in Pedigree Dog Breeds." They are trying to make genetics more understandable and accessible to breeders by providing them with accurate information on Kennel Club registered dogs so they can achieve their own personal goals while caring for the genetic health of the breed as a whole.

Another project she is working on, "The Sitka Spruced," aims to create new capacity to increase the rate of genetic gain in the UK Sitka Spruce breeding programme.

Could you briefly summarise your work?

I'm a population geneticist and aspire to become a quantitative geneticist. I'm currently working on a few projects, but my main interest is canine genetics.

Why is your research important? How is it relevant to people's lives?

There are still some problems in dog breeding, and I believe we have developed some effective tools to address them, but the dog community is not using them fully. My study is about exploring these tools and bridging the gap between scientists and dog breeders to help them breed healthier puppies.

What are the major challenges in your field?

One of the most important problems is that dogs are not livestock and there is no dog industry comparable to livestock. Finally, breeding depends on people who breed puppies as a hobby and own their dogs privately, and solving some breeding problems, which are more of a social problem, is a big challenge.

What inspired you to be a scientist?

For my job in canine genetics, I needed to become a geneticist first! As a result, I ended up as a scientist by chance.

What do you like best about your job? What do you like the least?

One of my favourite aspects of my job is interacting with dog lovers, breeders, enthusiasts, and scientists. That means I write papers, give a talk or presentation. A new programme, software or programming work, on the other hand, is always a challenge for me. But I have learned to like both to become a better scientist.

If you could have tea with another scientist (alive or dead), who would it be? What would you talk about?

I'd love to meet the Boyko brothers, Adam and Ryan, for tea. I've probably read everything they've published on canine genetics so far and would love to discuss some of it, but I'm sure I'd have some additional questions about their canine genomics and biotechnology company, Embark.

Mateja Jenes

What is the most unusual thing you have done as a scientist?

When I was still working in beekeeping, I participated in an experiment using bees to detect bombs. It was a great success, and I ended up on the cover of a well-known Croatian magazine with the headline "My bees are searching for land mines." I don't have to tell you how my neighbours reacted, because I lived on the fourth floor of a modest suburban flat at the time. The bomb-sniffing bees were, of course, university bees living in a distant apiary, not on my balcony.

If you weren’t a scientist, what would you be doing?

Music is my second great passion in life. And I'd most likely be a singer.

Do you have any advice for people who want to go into this field of research or start a career as a scientist?

Make sure you choose a topic that interests and excites you. Then, if you are patient and persistent when researching your subject, the result of your efforts will be fantastic (sooner or later).

What do you think are the major challenges facing humanity? How can science help?

Of course there are challenges related to energy, climate change, malnutrition or hunger, poverty, disease, and human suffering, but I believe the most important problem in our world is misinformation. The biggest challenge is undoubtedly to teach individuals, organisations, and governments to recognise these challenges and then move them to action. Only then will we be able to muster the passion and drive (as well as the financial resources) to address all of the above problems. And I believe that science can help improve communication with non-scientists.

Related Links

Mateja Janeš profile

Highlander Lab