Horse Genome Map in the Works

A Thoroughbred mare will soon join the human, mouse, dog, and other species on the list of mammals whose genomes have been sequenced and mapped. The National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) is currently working on a high-level equine sequence, which is a major breakthrough for researchers who want to better understand and solve common health conditions in the horse. Additionally, the horse genome map will assist human researchers in unlocking human health mysteries.

Scientists at the Broad Institute, a part of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, are churning out segments of the horse genome sequence daily and posting them on a web site, where they are available for immediate use by equine researchers. Before this development, if an individual began a project on a particular DNA region, he or she first would have to obtain a DNA sequence for that region. This preliminary work would take six to eight months and cost up to $80,000. Now the process is akin to pulling a reference book out of a library.

The high density sequencing of the horse should cost roughly $30 million.

Earlier this year, the NHGRI chose the horse for "light coverage" genome sequencing to help answer questions that remain about human physiology.

Claire Wade, BVSc, PhD, of the Broad Institute, explains the importance of other mammals' genetic makeups to human research: "If we can have more mammalian genomes sequenced, it helps us pin down which parts of the genome are important (for certain shared processes between species)."

Researchers likely will finish sequencing the DNA by October, then they will assemble the fragments into a map. In the meantime, they will also be doing lighter sequencing on horses from six other horse breeds to study subtle differences between their genetic makeups.

In applying these tools, inherited diseases will probably be tackled first, followed by targeted research on conditions such as laminitis, metabolic disorders, and sweet itch.

Researchers will continue working with the tools of the equine genome map for years to come. Wade says, "Hopefully it will benefit horse- and humankind, and help us get rid of some of the diseases that afflict us all."

Ernie Bailey, PhD, geneticist and professor of veterinary science at the University of Kentucky's Gluck Equine Research Center adds, "This is just the beginning. This is the most profound change in equine biology that has ever come about. All the constraints we have had in our work have been changed."

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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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