Your Guide to Equine Health Care

Equine Genetic Disease: Who’s At Risk?

Many DNA sequence variations are fine; they just give rise to the broad spectrum of colors, sizes, and other characteristics we see in the horse population. Some variations, however, cause problems. These might range from a genetic predisposition
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Many of today’s scientific advancements are based on genetic technology, and medicine is at the cutting edge of gene discovery. Equine medicine is no different. Using the very information code for life in genes, scientists are working to:

  • Prevent devastating or career-ending diseases through informed breeding;
  • Gain new knowledge on conditions that contribute to disease severity;
  • Monitor efficacy of treatments;
  • Assess fitness expression;
  • Identify at-risk horses;
  • Map the horse genome in order to improve the search for specific genes responsible for traits of interest; and
  • Utilize gene chip technology to study disease expression.

The goal is to control, treat, and even eliminate equine genetic disorders. This article will discuss how genetic research is helping our horses live better, healthier lives.

What is a Genetic Disease?

All of the physical characteristics a horse expresses, and likely many of his mental ones, are controlled by his unique combination of genes–arrays of DNA sequence that code for specific combinations of amino acids, which form unique functional proteins. Many DNA sequence variations are fine; they just give rise to the broad spectrum of colors, sizes, and other characteristics we see in the horse population. Some variations, however, cause problems. These might range from a genetic predisposition toward a particular limb conformation to overo lethal white syndrome, which is 100%

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Written by:

Marcia King is an award-winning freelance writer based in Ohio who specializes in equine, canine, and feline veterinary topics. She’s schooled in hunt seat, dressage, and Western pleasure.

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