Equine Genome Map Invaluable, Researcher Says

By Erin Ryder

The newly completed equine genome map will be an invaluable asset for those looking to breed and manage the ideal equine athlete, as well as giving researchers a whole new set of tools for investigating equine disease.

According to Dr. Claire Wade, a senior research scientist at the Broad Institute of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, by testing horses for an array of genetic traits linked to athleticism, it will be easier to decide which horses are likely to succeed.

"I see the greatest benefit for racing horses as being things like determining which weanlings to take forward into training, for example," Wade said.

While some fear that breeders with financial resources will get an advantage over other breeders by using this genetic information to breed better or faster horses, Wade doesn’t feel that is the case.

"I think that it (benefits of research on breeding) would very quickly be public knowledge, at which time everyone would be equally able to benefit," Wade said. "There's really no benefit in all horses being faster, there's only a benefit if you're the only one who knows how to make your horse go faster,"

Because the information would be so widely available, Wade said she doesn't think certain breeders would have an unfair lead over others. From a performance aspect, the main advantage of the increased understanding of the equine genome will be in management decisions.

Athleticism is a complex trait – one that is controlled by many different genes and the environment. According to Wade, it's fairly easy to map simply inherited traits, but so far no one has successfully mapped complex traits because researchers don't have the numbers of horses genotyped that would be needed for such assessments. Researchers are just beginning to map complex traits in humans, which Wade says is due to the larger pool of subjects and increased funding for human studies.

"It's very early days – the sequence has just hit the ground, so to speak," Wade said. "What will be done will depend on who's financing it. Usually public funding will be there to search for things that might be of benefit to animal welfare, and I think things to profit will be left to the private sector. I think once the private sector sees that progress is being made in these other things, then the potential is there for them to use that." 

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