The Genetics Revolution

Mapping the horse genome used to be a pie-in-the-sky type of wish for veterinary geneticists: Understanding the genetic makeup of the horse could help them unlock a plethora of equine health mysteries and improve horse care. It was a tough

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Mapping the horse genome used to be a pie-in-the-sky type of wish for veterinary geneticists: Understanding the genetic makeup of the horse could help them unlock a plethora of equine health mysteries and improve horse care. It was a tough concept to explain to the layperson, journalist, research donor, or horse owner. But the message got through and the completed equine genome sequence is now a reality, clearing the way for advancements in equine veterinary medicine, from new tests for genetic disease to ways of predicting orthopedic injury.

Douglas F. Antczak, VMD, PhD, director of the James A. Baker Institute for Animal Health at Cornell University, gave the John Hickman Memorial Lecture at the 46th Congress of the British Equine Veterinary Association (BEVA), held in Edinburgh, Scotland, Sept. 12-15, 2007. His talk, "The Genetics Revolution," kicked off three days of presentations from some of the best and brightest names in equine veterinary medicine.

Antczak chronicled the beginnings of the Horse Genome Project group, who had seven or eight genes of the horse fully mapped at the group’s outset in 1995. This contrasts with the estimated 20,000 genes that are mapped to chromosomes of the horse today. "This has been an unprecedented collaboration that has extended over the past 10 years from 22 laboratories in 12 countries," he explained. "This collaboration has brought us to where we are today," which is to a point where a complete (6.8x) whole genome sequence of the horse is available to researchers worldwide in public DNA databases.

"Horses are large, expensive–they kick, bite, they really are the geneticist’s nightmare," he said. "Nevertheless, they’ve moved to the forefront of modern molecular genetics." The research moved along steadily in the hands of the Genome Project group until 2006, when they were helped by a commitment from the U.S. National Human Genome Research Institute of the National Institutes of Health, who added the horse to its list of mammalian species to be sequenced. The map was rocketed toward completion, and scientists are now at liberty to complete associated equine genetic research much more efficiently than before. While it used to take about six months to sequence an equine gene, now information on a particular gene can be pulled and useful to a researcher in 15 minutes

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Stephanie L. Church, Editorial Director, grew up riding and caring for her family’s horses in Central Virginia and received a B.A. in journalism and equestrian studies from Averett University. She joined The Horse in 1999 and has led the editorial team since 2010. A 4-H and Pony Club graduate, she enjoys dressage, eventing, and trail riding with her former graded-stakes-winning Thoroughbred gelding, It Happened Again (“Happy”). Stephanie and Happy are based in Lexington, Kentucky.

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