Gene Mapping Workshop Shows Great Progress

In the past two years, researchers have more than doubled the known number of landmarks for the equine gene mapping project, bringing the total mapped markers and genes to nearly 1,000. Horse geneticists met July 4-6 at the Fourth International Equine Gene Mapping Workshop in Brisbane, Australia, to discuss their research. The group also reviewed preliminary studies using the gene map that identify inherited aspects of diseases, bone disorders, and coat color, among other traits in horses.

This group began meeting in 1995 under the sponsorship of the Dorothy Russell Havemeyer Foundation, with the goal of creating a new research tool to benefit horses.

Ernie Bailey, PhD, of the Gluck Equine Research Center at the University of Kentucky, was one of the workshop organizers. He explained that the equine effort is related to the human genome project, but their goal is not to sequence the entire horse genome. Instead, the horse mapping effort will identify landmarks on chromosomes and create a framework for studying horse genes. Geneticists have found that the organization of the equine genome is very similar to that of the human genome, with many large chromosome sequences the same in both species. This means scientists are able to use the human map to predict the organization of the equine genome.

"In the next two years, we want to have 1,500 more genes mapped," said Bailey.

"Furthermore, we encourage the scientists in this group to investigate health traits in horses," Bailey continued. "We've turned the corner from simply building the map to starting the applications. We should start seeing more reports relating to health and diagnostic tests."

But not all applications will be diagnostic tests for genetic traits. Bailey believes one pertinent application of the knowledge could be in improving vaccines. "We already manipulate the immune system (via vaccine) to provide protection against infection, but many (vaccines) don't work well and we don't know why," he said.

Bacteria and viruses manipulate the horse's genetic response, said Bailey. If scientists understood those manipulations, and understood why horses respond differently to the same organisms, then researchers could make better vaccines.

For more information on the workshop activity, visit

About the Author

Stephanie L. Church, Editor-in-Chief

Stephanie L. Church, Editor-in-Chief, received a B.A. in Journalism and Equestrian Studies from Averett College in Danville, Virginia. A Pony Club and 4-H graduate, her background is in eventing, and she is schooling her recently retired Thoroughbred racehorse, Happy, toward a career in that discipline. She also enjoys traveling, photography, cycling, and cooking in her free time.

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