The Gray Gene

British scientists have identified the distinctive gene that gives about 3% of the Thoroughbred population the gray coat color, and they plan to continue studying the genetics in hopes of learning why grays are more prone to developing melanomas than other horses.

"If we can actually understand the process, maybe in the future it could be possible to develop drugs which could block melanoma," Matthew Binns, head of genetics at the Animal Health Trust in Suffolk, England, told British Broadcasting Corp. News Online.

Binns led a study of DNA samples from a gray stallion named Paris Match and his offspring to locate the position of the gray locus on the horse genome as chromosome 25. All gray Thoroughbreds are believed to have descended from one stallion, Alcock’s Arabian, who was foaled in the early 1700s.

The DNA studies can be a benefit in the care of all Thoroughbreds, researchers believe, and give breeders more information that will allow them to be more selective. There is evidence that some horses have a gene variation linked with stamina, for example.

"The primary payoff is being able to select more effectively and improve the general health of the horse population," said Patrick Cunningham, professor of genetics at University College of Dublin.


About the Author

Deirdre Biles

Deirdre Biles is the Bloodstock Sales Editor for The Blood-Horse magazine.

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