Equine Researcher Receives $500,000 Grant to conduct Genome Project

Gluck Equine Research Center's Dan Howe, PhD, has received a $500,000 grant from the USDA-CSREES (U.S. Department of Agriculture-Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service) Competitive Grants Program to conduct a Sarcocystis neurona genome project.

The goal of the three-year project, titled "Genome Sequence for the apicomplexan Sarcocystis neurona," is to sequence, assemble, and annotate the genome of S. neurona, the protozoan (single-cell) parasite that causes equine protozoal myeloencephalitis (EPM). This is a debilitating neurologic disease that continues to have a significant impact on equine health in North and South America. In addition to the expenses associated with diagnosis, care, and treatment, EPM can be particularly costly in performance horses since many of these animals might not recover sufficiently to allow their return to competition.

"Similar to the horse genome project, this work will open numerous new avenues of investigation," Howe said. “For example, the S. neurona sequence information can be exploited to identify new targets for protective immunization or chemotherapeutics against this parasite. As well, the S. neurona genome project will have broader impact by complementing research on related parasites that cause significant disease in humans and other animals (e.g., malaria, piroplasmosis, and toxoplasmosis)."

All the information from the study will be posted to public databases for use by others interested in researching S. neurona and EPM. The project builds on prior sequencing projects conducted in Howe’s lab, which was funded by the Amerman Family Foundation.

Howe will collaborate on the project with Chris Schardl, PhD, the Harry E. Wheeler Chair in Plant Mycology and director of the University of Kentucky Advanced Genetic Technologies Center (UK-AGTC), and Jessica Kissinger, PhD, of the University of Georgia.

Jenny Blandford is the Gluck Equine Research Foundation assistant.

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