2012 Horse Genome Workshop a Success

Approximately 120 scientists gathered for the 2012 Horse Genome Workshop, which took place at the XX Plant and Animal Genome Conference in San Diego, Jan. 14-15.

During the workshop, geneticists predicted that our understanding of the equine genome will grow as gene sequencing technology continues to improve. Samantha Brooks, PhD, of Cornell University chaired the horse-relate portion of the event.

The program covered diverse equine-genetics' topics, including:

  • Alterations in genome structure that cause disorders of sexual development in horses;
  • DNA alterations that change regulation of gene expression of horses;
  • The genetics involved in cribbing;
  • Investigation of genetic influences on recurrent airway obstruction (RAO, or heaves) in European Warmblood horses;
  • Discovery and description of genes expressed in 43 different equine tissues and their use to improve our understanding of the genes expressed in horses; and
  • Comparisons of genomes both within and between different breeds of horses.

Ernie Bailey, PhD, professor of veterinary science at the University of Kentucky's Gluck Equine Research Center and coordinator for the USDA Horse Genome collaboration attended the workshop. The audience found a presentation by invited speaker Ludovic Orlando, PhD, from the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, particularly interesting, Bailey said.

"Orlando reported that a novel technique referred to as NEXTGEN sequencing was used to generate genome sequencing from four modern horses (Arabian, Standardbred, Norwegian Fjord, and Icelandic), a Przewalski horse, and a donkey, as well as DNA from three fossil horses that died between 13,000 and 50,000 years ago," relayed Bailey.

Scientists routinely conduct studies comparing genes found among modern breeds, using this information to understand the consequences of selection practices (for certain traits such as speed) and to develop improved selection systems.

Bailey added, "Orlando's studies also provide a unique opportunity because seeing DNA sequences from fossil horses allows us to identify the starting point for horse selection and the raw genetic material our ancestors had available."

Poster presentations were also welcome, which, according to Bailey, "demonstrate the opportunities for discovery which have become possible as a consequence of the horse genome tools."

Following the conference and workshop, the Dorothy Russell Havemeyer Foundation hosted receptions for scientists interested in horse genomics.

"We discussed the need for improved infrastructure for research, and the need to construct a new build for the reference genome (Twilight, the first horse to have its entire genome sequenced)," Bailey said. "Because this is the reference genome and all new sequences are compared to this build, it is important that errors be detected and corrected. We also discussed the need for additional whole genome sequences in addition to Twilight's, and a number of scientists informally relayed that they were currently working on sequencing a total of seven other horse genomes."

The next Havemeyer Horse Genome Mapping Conference will take place in Portugal in 2013.

About the Author

Stacey Oke, DVM, MSc

Stacey Oke, MSc, DVM, is a practicing veterinarian and freelance medical writer and editor. She is interested in both large and small animals, as well as complementary and alternative medicine. Since 2005, she's worked as a research consultant for nutritional supplement companies, assisted physicians and veterinarians in publishing research articles and textbooks, and written for a number of educational magazines and websites.

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