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Scientists Search For Racing Ability Gene

Tuesday, 29th July 2008

Dublin University's Dr Emmeline Hill told a genetics symposium hosted by the Irish Thoroughbred Breeders' Association that the ability to identify genes which, when "switched on" in response to exercise, influence a horse's racing ability, is "the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow", reported racingpost.co.uk. Dr Hill explained the goal was to "find the genes that are associated with performance at rest & then we can try to make predictions from unraced individuals as to how fast they can go". Hill is working on a 5-year project (funded by a research grant she received in 2004) & noted: "We expect & hope that this information will add to existing breeding programmes & improve the entire thoroughbred herd & reduce operation costs. And we hope also that one day the old mantra of 'breed the best to the best & hope for the best' will become 'breed the best to the best & test for the best'." Hill's research involves "measuring chemical products created by genes in response to exercise & comparing the amount of product to physical performance: for instance, the amount of lactate produced in a horse's blood compared to the rate of speed it reaches on a treadmill". One of the "trickiest bits is to find the relevant genes among the 25,000 possibilities & she is using some genes known to be associated with athletic performance in humans as candidates for research in the horse". However she also noted her work "is not quite the same as looking for that chimera, the 'speed gene'. She is looking instead for variants of genes that, when prompted by physical exertion, confer an athletic advantage to the individual who has them". She summed up: "There's a common misconception when somebody says: Does he have the gene?. Well, everybody has all of the genes. Everybody has the 25,000 genes in the genome. It's the variant, whether you actually have that DNA difference in your genes, that we're talking about."

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