An Austin tech startup has figured out a way to get lots of attention on TV on Super Bowl Sunday without spending a dime on advertising. Oh, and it involves the universally adored topic of puppies.
Embark, which provides saliva-based DNA testing for dogs, is partnering with the Puppy Bowl this year to provide free testing for all 78 dogs involved in the mock Super Bowl aired on Animal Planet on Sunday.
If you’ve never heard of the Puppy Bowl or just forgotten its charms, picture a bunch of adorable puppies running around in a mock football stadium loaded upwith dog toys and soft footballs.
The goal is to drag one of the football-shaped toys into the end zone. The pups are also divided into two teams depending on their size - Team Ruff and Team Fluff.
The puppies used in the Puppy Bowl all come from animal shelters or rescue groups.
“It’s obviously great exposure,” said Embark CEO Ryan Boyko. But he said the reason they wanted to get involved in the Puppy Bowl was because of its advocacy for adoptions and animal shelters.
“The shelters who have gotten puppies tested have been very interested in the results,” Boyko said, because it’s a way to fill in the “back story” of these anonymous puppies.
This is the first time Animal Planet has worked with a dog DNA firm to test the Puppy Bowl dogs. A spokeswoman said Embark will be featured on the show and the DNA results will be mentioned.
Embark’s tests revealed some surprising breed information about the 35 dogs in the Puppy Bowl starting lineup.
For instance, 13 of the dogs in the starting lineup have Staffordshire Terrier in them. Does this mean that breed just excels at, well, breeding?
Embark can also tell how much of a dog’s DNA mix is related to wolves.
For instance, Embark’s tests concluded that a small fluffy brown dog named Slippers is 50 percent Pomeranian, with the rest being a mix of Poodle, Havanese and “Supermutt.”
But little Slippers also had the second-highest “wolfiness” score of all Super Bowl athletes.
That means 6.2 percent of her genetic haplotypes -- a group of genes inherited from a single parent -- match wolf haplotypes.
Embark certainly has lots of competitors in the dog DNA space. But Boyko says Embark is different because it tests for over 200,000 genetic markers. Boyko says other companies test for about 2,000 markers.
The startup also provide owners not just with breed information, but insights into a dog’s genetic predisposition to certain diseases or health traits.
The company plans to use the dog DNA it collects to conduct genetic mapping and research, with the goal of better diagnostics and drug treatments for dogs. And its founders say because of DNA similarities between canines and humans, their research could also lead to scientific breakthroughs for people.
Embark was founded in July 2015 and held a launch event during last year’s South by Southwest Interactive festival.
Boyko said since they started selling their tests last year they’ve sold “several thousand” DNA testing kits.
Interested in getting an Embark test for your pup? They normally sell for $199 but the company is running a Super Bowl special. Use the code “PuppyBowl” to get $30 knocked off that price.
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