USDA Funds Genome Project

The horse genome effort received a major boost in April 1998 when the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) approved renewal of an initiative of the National Animal Genome Project which, for the first time, includes support for construction of the horse gene map ($45,000 per year for 5 years).

This initiative, titled National Research Sponsored Project number 8 (NRSP-8), funds collaborative efforts among American laboratories working on cattle, sheep, pigs, chickens, and horses. The American laboratories working on the horse genome are located at the University of California, Davis, University of Kentucky, Texas A&M University, Cornell University, University of Minnesota, Tufts University, Shelterwood Labs in Carthage, Texas and Applied Biosystems of Foster City, California.

NRSP-8 is part of a larger international collaboration including laboratories in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, France, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Germany, Czech Republic, and The Netherlands working together to construct a gene map for the horse. The international workshop began in October 1995 and is being conducted under the auspices of the Dorothy Russell Havermeyer Foundation. The group met in January 1998 to discuss construction of the first linkage map for the horse; this map, including over 150 markers, will be reported on later this year.

A gene map for the horse will be useful to investigate the hereditary basis of behavior, performance and diseases. Already geneticists are using the map to study: the hereditary basis of muscle diseases such as tying up; developmental bone diseases such as Osteochondrosis dessicans; and allergic diseases such as culicoides hypersensitivity. Likewise, this tool could provide greater insight into genetic predisposition’s to laminitis, cryptorchidism, conformation defects, as well as metabolic and immunological diseases.

Another application will be to investigate genetically determined responded to infectious diseases. Some horses appear resistant to certain infectious diseases and knowing the basis for disease resistance will suggest effective methods to prevent or treat the diseases and allow scientists to be more effective in evaluating trial vaccines.

In summary, this research will help veterinarians and horse owners make better management and treatment decisions and understand the contributions made by genetics, environment, and chance to complex traits and diseases.

The horse gene map is being constructed using a variety of tools. Several laboratories are developing genetic markers, called microsatellite DNA markers, which form the framework for the map; five laboratories are conducting cytogenetic studies to map genes to chromosomes; 20 laboratories are conducting family studies to determine the genetic distance between markers and to further localize the position of the markers.

The map is quickly taking form and will be a valuable tool for scientists. If you are interested in seeing the status of the gene map you can visit the gene map database at the following web sites: Roslin, Scotland http://www.ri.bbsrc.ac.uk/cgi-bin/arkdb/browsers/browser.sh?species=horse and Jouy-en-Josas, France http://locus.jouy.inra.fr/cgi-bin/horsemap/Horsemap/main.pl.

About the Author

Tim Brockhoff

Tim Brockhoff was Staff Writer of The Horse:Your Guide to Equine Health Care from 1995 to 1999. His degree is in Agricultural Communications from the University of Kentucky, and his equine experience is with American Saddlebreds.

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