Research highlight

‘First past the post’ gene

Nature Communications

January 25, 2012

The origin of the gene that leads to superior speed in the racehorse is reported in Nature Communications this week. The Thoroughbred has been considered the most valuable breed of horse in the world and during the 300 years of their development, they have been intensely selected for athletic phenotypes that enable superior racecourse performance. Athletic phenotypes are influenced by environment, management and training, however it has long been accepted that there are underlying genetic factors that influence a horse’s athletic performance capabilities. Some genes have been identified, which explain the Thoroughbred’s physiological adaptations to athleticism and exercise, such as the C/T variation at the myostatin gene locus. Emmeline Hill and colleagues used a combination of population genetics-based molecular and pedigree approaches in modern and historic horse samples to trace the origin of this valuable C-variant allele. They find that, while the T-allele was ancestral, there was a single introduction of the C-allele at the foundation stages of the Thoroughbred from a British-native mare. The note that the C-allele was rare among celebrated racehorses of the 18th and 19th centuries, however it has proliferated in current populations via recent influential stallions. The authors conclude that the athletic potential of Thoroughbreds depends on a favourable environment as well as inheriting the optimal combination of DNA variants at loci that significantly affect exercise.

doi: 10.1038/ncomms1644

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