Researchers Identify Ancestral Mother of Modern Horses

“Equine Eve,” the ancestral mother of all modern horses, probably lived about 140,000 years ago.

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"Equine Eve," the ancestral mother of all modern horses, probably lived about 140,000 years ago, according to new mitochondrial genome research by Italian geneticists on a large population of modern horses. This research might someday help breeders identify athletic potential in horses, the researchers noted.

Humans began domesticating this wild mare’s descendants well over a hundred thousand years later in multiple domestication sites across the planet, said Alessandro Achilli, PhD, assistant professor of Genetics in the Department of Cellular and Environmental Biology at the University of Perugia, Italy.

Although there is no physical evidence of this "equine Eve," genetic investigation and calculations based on the mitochondrial genomes of 83 modern horses throughout the world, provide a fairly reliable estimation of her existence, Achilli said. 

"We were able to reconstruct the Ancestral Mare Mitogenome (AMM), representing the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) of the most recent common female ancestor of modern horses," he said. "Then, by counting the number of differences between this ancestral mtDNA and the mtDNAs of modern horses we were able to establish when this ancestral mare was living." Unlike previous studies, Achilli’s research focused on a more complete mitochondrial analysis, as is done in human genetic research, he said

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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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