Researchers Study European Sport Horses’ Paternal Lines

Researchers are studying multiple parts of the Y chromosome to determine how modern sport horses came to be.

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Horse breeding is becoming more high-tech: By studying multiple parts of the Y chromosome in stallions, Austrian researchers are mapping out picturesque paternity lines that reveal how the modern sport horse came to be.

This “polymorphic” research—which investigates multiple genes on the Y chromosome (which is only present in males)—has led researchers to conclude that today’s European sport horse can be categorized into six major lines, said Barbara Wallner, PhD, of the Institute of Animal Breeding and Genetics at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna.

These lines are represented by what scientists call “haplotypes,” which are DNA classifications based on close similarities of certain genome segments. These classifications indicate a major genetic difference from other haplotypes, suggesting different lines of breeding. In a 2011 study German researchers determined that modern horses had very little variation in the Y chromosome when compared to wild horses; Wallner’s group is focusing on what kinds of variations exist in the modern horse.

In today’s domestic European horse, the fact that there are only six haplotypes in the male lines is significant and represents very selective breeding, Wallner said. However, this isn’t cause for concern, as maternal lines still vary significantly. Last year, a group of Italian scientists found 18 haplotypes in modern horses worldwide based on maternal genes

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Passionate about horses and science from the time she was riding her first Shetland Pony in Texas, Christa Lesté-Lasserre writes about scientific research that contributes to a better understanding of all equids. After undergrad studies in science, journalism, and literature, she received a master’s degree in creative writing. Now based in France, she aims to present the most fascinating aspect of equine science: the story it creates. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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