Specific Gene Thought to Determine Athletic Ability

Two separate research teams have identified the myostatin gene as a crucial indicator of athletic ability in a Thoroughbred's genetic makeup and are continuing to study the potential of this marker for race distance selection.

Emmeline Hill, PhD, and a team of researchers from the University College Dublin discovered earlier this year that a mutation of the gene myostatin greatly impacts a racehorse's athletic ability. Hill's team discovered that horses with the particular mutation have increased muscle mass.

The team used the Equinome Speed Gene test to analyze the DNA of nearly 150 Thoroughbreds. The results of the test indicated at what distance--short, medium, or medium-long races--a horse would likely be most competitive. Since the initial study, the team has that the Equinome Speed Gene marker is the most sensitive genetic marker in the genome for the prediction of race distance aptitude in Thoroughbreds.

More recently, a team of researchers working at the Japanese Laboratory of Racing Chemistry conducted a similar test and obtained comparable results. Teruaki Tozaki, PhD, the leader of the Japanese team, also found that the characteristics of the area surrounding the myostatin gene had a great bearing on the athletic ability of the horses tested, suggesting that racing performance or athletic ability is a hereditary trait.

More specifically, the researchers found that three genetic markers on Chromosome-18--where the myostatin gene is located--had a positive correlation with performance, based on a review of lifetime earnings and performance rankings from the Japanese Racing Association (JRA).

"It is expected that the three genetic markers may be included as genetic diagnostic markers for racing performance measures," Tozaki said. "Importantly, our study supports the research by University College Dublin's Dr. Emmeline Hill published earlier this year that identified a genetic marker in myostatin as a predictor of best race distance."

Hill added, “The markers may be indicators of performance in the JRA system, as there is early selection for certain distance types, which has contributed to Dr. Tozaki's findings”.

"The ongoing, rapid developments in genomics technology are facilitating the identification of the key genetic variants that contribute to the athletic phenotype (physical characteristics)," said Hill of Tozaki's research. "Importantly, we have confirmed the importance of the Equinome Speed Gene test marker in the context of the entire genome and have shown that the genetic marker used in our test is 15 times more powerful in determining optimum racing distance than the next most sensitive marker."

A complete overview of the studies can be found at the University College Dublin's website.

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