Animal Genetics Testing Lab Celebrates 25th Anniversary

This year the University of Kentucky's Animal Genetics Testing & Research Laboratory (AGTRL) will celebrate 25 years of offering a variety of genetic testing services to horse owners and breed registries.

Established in 1986 and formerly known as the Parentage Testing Laboratory, the AGTRL is located in the Gluck Equine Research Center after being housed in the Dimmock Animal Pathology building at UK until 2009. Available genetic tests include traditional blood typing, DNA typing, parentage analysis, and color gene testing. The lab further provides an opportunity for horse owners to investigate their horses' DNA and offers a range of tests to the public.

The AGTRL, under the leadership of director Kathy Graves, PhD, is one of three laboratories associated with public universities in the United States. The other two are at the University of California, Davis, and Texas A&M University.

The AGTRL was in development before DNA tests were even widely used. The Department of Veterinary Science had begun regularly conducting blood type testing to verify parentage for Standardbred registrations across the country when scientists became aware of a condition occurring in about 2% of Standardbreds called neonatal isoerythrolysis (which occurs in healthy foals and results in a conflict between the foal and the antibodies found in its mother's milk, which causes a destruction of the foal's red blood cells).

DNA technology became available around 1994 and, as it became more frequently used, replaced blood typing for parentage analysis. DNA became easier for owners to sample and for labs to test, and genetic markers were established as comparisons to verify parentage or identification.

With the ease of sampling came the development of more tests for genetic diseases such as junctional epidermolysis bullosa (also known as JEB, commonly found in Saddlebreds) and overo lethal white syndrome (OLWS, a concern in Paint horses). The test for JEB was developed at the AGTRL.

Other tests available at the AGTRL can determine the presence of genes linked to coat color such as the e locus gene, which controls presence of red or black hair; the Agouti gene, which determines whether a horse is bay or black; the cream dilution gene, responsible for palominos and buckskins; champagne dilution; silver; gray; sabino; and tobiano. The champagne dilution, tobiano, and sabino tests were also developed at the Gluck Center in the laboratory of Ernie Bailey, PhD, professor in the Department of Veterinary Science.

The AGTRL uses its revenue for genetic research projects and works with breed registries to identify genetic issues within specific breeds. To request a series of tests, owners, breeders, and veterinarians can visit the AGTRL website at

Jenny Blandford is the Gluck Equine Research Foundation assistant at the Gluck Center. Natalie Voss, a former UK equine communications intern, contributed to this article.

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