New research identifies the ‘speed gene’ contributing to a specific athletic trait in thoroughbred horses.

Groundbreaking research led by Dr Emmeline Hill, a leading horse genomics researcher at University College Dublin’s (UCD) School of Agriculture, Food Science and Veterinary Medicine has resulted in the identification of the ‘speed gene’ in thoroughbred horses.

The identification of the ‘speed gene’ is the first known characterisation of a gene contributing to a specific athletic trait in thoroughbred horses and has the potential to transform decision-making processes in the global bloodstock industry. This research was the first academic programme in the world to apply novel genomics technologies to identify genetic contributions to racing performance in thoroughbred horses and was funded by Science Foundation Ireland.

Equinome, a new biotech company, was established as a UCD spin-out company in 2009 to commercialise this research by Dr Hill and Mr Jim Bolger, the renowned Irish racehorse trainer and breeder. Equinome is headquartered in NovaUCD, the University’s Innovation and Technology Transfer Centre which is responsible for the commercialisation of intellectual property arising from UCD research programmes.

The thoroughbred horse racing and breeding industry is an international, multi-billion euro business. Using the Equinome Speed Gene test racehorse owners and trainers around the world will be able to identify if a horse is ideally suited to racing over short, middle or middle-to-long distances. With this information, they can then optimise their purchasing and training decisions and better target suitable races for their horses. Breeders, stallion managers and bloodstock agents will also be able to use the test to make more precise selection and breeding decisions to maximise the genetic potential and commercial value of their horses.

The scientific data supporting the Equinome Speed Gene test have been peer-reviewed and were published recently in a scientific paper entitled A sequence polymorphism in MSTN predicts sprinting ability and racing stamina in thoroughbred horses in the open access on-line Public Library of Science journal PLoS ONE.

According to Dr Emmeline Hill, “Breeding techniques for thoroughbred horses have remained relatively unchanged for centuries. Breeders currently rely on combining successful bloodlines together, hoping that the resulting foal will contain that winning combination of genes. Until now, whether those winning genes have or have not been inherited could only be surmised by observing the racing and breeding success of a horse over an extended period of years after its birth.” She concluded, “Using the Equinome Speed Gene test, a world first in equine genetics, it will now be possible to definitively know a horse’s genetic type within weeks of a sample being taken, thus reducing much of the uncertainty that has been typically involved in selection, training and breeding decisions.”

Dr Emmeline Hill formally announced details of the Equinome Speed Gene on January 29th 2010 at the Irish thoroughbred Breeders’ Association (ITBA) Expo 2010 in a seminar entitled “Cracking the code: The Speed Gene revealed.”

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