Genetics is one of the many research focus areas at the University of Kentucky’s Gluck Equine Research Center. A subset of this emphasis area is the Animal Genetic Testing and Research Laboratory (AGTRL), which allows horse owners to investigate their horses’ DNA and offers a range of tests to the public, including those for genetic disorders and coat color patterns.

The AGTRL is one of only two such laboratories connected with public universities in the United States; the other is at the University of California, Davis.

The AGTRL was founded in 1986, before DNA tests were widely used. At that time the Department of Veterinary Science had begun regularly conducting blood type testing to verify parentage for Standardbred registrations across the country when scientists became aware of a condition called neonatal isoerythrolysis, or foal jaundice, present in about 2% of Standardbreds. The condition occurs in healthy foals and is caused by an incompatibility of blood types between a mare and her foal, which causes a destruction of the foal’s red blood cells. The AGTRL research team studied the condition and discovered a way to test a mare and stallion to see if a cross would result in neonatal isoerythrolysis.

“It was a bigger problem in Standardbreds because of the variability in their bloodstream … Thoroughbreds had a lower incidence because they were much less variable,” said AGTRL director Kathryn Graves, PhD.

Graves said the test can also be conducted after the birth of a neonatal isoerthrolysis foal and allows farms to place affected foals with nurse mares.

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