Boyko’s Embark goes prime time with Puppy Bowl

For some of us, the best part of Super Bowl Sunday isn’t the football—it’s the puppies. Animal Planet’s PUPPY BOWL XIII has become a beloved program for animal lovers around the country, and this year, scientists from the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine get to ‘play ball’. Embark, the biotech start-up co-founded by Dr. Adam Boyko, assistant professor of biomedical sciences, has conducted DNA testing for all 78 of the Puppy Bowl players to reveal genetic insights about each pup’s heritage and health. “Looking at a puppy’s DNA can tell us what breeds they come from, how big they’ll get, and even if they have genetic risk factors for certain diseases,” Boyko explains. “That’s powerful information to have if you’re adopting a dog.”

This high-profile partnership marks another highlight for Boyko’s newly minted start-up, which originated from his academic research at the College. This research focuses on understanding the genetic basis for dog diseases and traits, with projects ranging from mapping Mendelian and complex traits, to finding the origin of the species itself.  “From the get-go, we knew there was a lot of interest in canine genomics, not just from researchers, but also from people who have dogs and want to know more about their own pets—where they came from and where they’re going,” says Boyko.  This interest drove Boyko and his brother, Ryan Boyko to create Embark, which was recently inducted into the McGovern Center, Cornell’s incubator for life science companies. The company conducts comprehensive DNA tests using scientific-grade chips—owners and breeders gather cheek swabs from their pets and mail it to Embark, which then analyzes the samples for key health, breed, and trait information.

Embark’s collaboration with Animal Planet involved Ryan Boyko and Embark veterinary geneticist Erin Chu ’10 DVM ’14 traveling to meet the Puppy Bowl pups in person to gather cheek swabs from each player. Although Adam Boyko hasn’t met the celebrity canines himself, he has a solid bet on who’s going to take home the “Petco Lombarky trophy” this year, thanks to Embark’s genetic information.  “My money’s on Team Fluff this year,” says Boyko.