Racehorse GeneticsRecent genetic investigations and genome mapping could lead to a revolution in horse breeding and racing. Is genetic manipulation far behind?
95% of thoroughbreds linked to one superstud
John Pickrell, Dublin
Virtually all 500,000 of the world’s thoroughbred racehorses are descended from 28 ancestors, born in the 18th and 19th centuries, according to a new genetic study. And up to 95% of male thoroughbreds can be traced back to just one stallion.
Thoroughbred horses were developed in 18th century in the UK. English mares were bred with Arabian and other stallions to create horses with great stamina for distance racing. Today, thoroughbreds are the most valuable of breeds, representing a multi-billion dollar annual industry, worldwide.
To assess the genetic diversity of modern racing horses, geneticist Patrick Cunningham of Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, compared 13 microsatellite DNA loci – repeating sequences of DNA which vary in length – in 211 thoroughbreds and 117 other Shetland, Egyptian and Turkish horses. He also examined studbooks dating back to 1791.
He found the majority of the half million progeny alive today are descended from just 28 “founder” horses.
It was already known that just a handful of stallions (but many mares) were used to found the thoroughbred breed. But startlingly, the new research finds that, in 95% of modern racehorses, the Y-chromosome can be traced back to a single stallion - the Darley Arabian, born in 1700.
"We hope to produce sounder, faster and better-performing horses," says Cunningham. He and colleague Emmeline Hill at University College Dublin is also using the horse genome to uncover genes that explain why one animal runs faster than another.
"Now we have a good amount of the horse genome, there are interesting times ahead," says Binns. "Over the next 10 years there will be some changes in this very traditional industry."
Cunningham presented his findings on Monday at the British Association Festival of Science in Dublin.
New Scientist Breaking News - 95% of thoroughbreds linked to one superstud