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Horse Genome Project


International Equine Genome Mapping Workshop
The 8th Dorothy Russell Havemeyer Foundation International Equine Genome Mapping Workshop took place near Newmarket, UK from July 22 to 25, 2009...[more]

Writers at the Louisville Courier Journal recently won the 2008 Media Eclipse Award for journalism based on an article about Thoroughbred racing and break-downs. They published a 3 part story, including genetics, track surfaces and medications. In connection with the genetics section they interviewed several members of the Horse Genome Project. See the accompanying links for the full stories on the 2008 Media Eclipse Award and the article itself.

Courier-Journal Web site wins award for horse project
Genetics may hold key to Injury-prone horses
[December 2008]

The first draft of the horse genome sequence was recently completed and deposited...
[JAVMA News, April 2007]

Data on Equine Genome Freely Available to Researchers Worldwide
[NIH News, February 2007]

The first genome map of a horse is complete, providing scientists with new tools for investigating equine disease. [ April 2006]



Is there a Speed Gene for race horses?

Horse breeders are popularly recognized as experts of animal husbandry. Through experience and study of pedigrees, horse breeders select horse matings to produce superior performance horses.  Nowhere is this reputation stronger than among breeders of Thoroughbred race horses.  Over 350 years ago a group of essentially 100 horses founded the breed.  From this genetic base, the breed has been crafted by breeders through selection to produce the modern race horse.  
Yet, despite 350 years of selection, recent studies suggest that as much as 30% of racing performance is determined by genetics.  Seventy percent of performance is management and training but the edge in a race may be genetics.  Considerable genetic variation still exists for racing performance. So what does this mean?   First, we can still use genetics to craft better horses. Second, more than one speed gene exists. 

This not a surprise.  Horses of all sizes and types win races.  Secretariat was a large horse 16.2 hands while another noteworthy race champion of the 20th Century, Northern Dancer, was only 15.2 hands tall.   Man O War had a stride length of 28 feet while recent Kentucky Derby winner, Smarty Jones, had a much shorter stride length.  There are many ways to win races.

The genes that influence racing performance will be those that enhance the limiting factors of muscles, respiration, heart function and musculoskeletal integrity as well as the competitive drive to race. Genetic studies of human athletic performance have led to discovery of more than 100 genes that influence athleticism.  We are studying these same genes in horses.
But the real prize would be a single gene that confers superior racing performance. Does a single gene for speed exist?  No, not now.  If such a gene existed, then our ancestors undoubtedly already found it and selected for it several hundred years ago and all Thoroughbred horses already have “that gene”. 


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