October 13, 2006 — The National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) announced in July that it has added the horse genome to it latest sequencing targets, a project expected to provide powerful new scientific strategies and methods for research on equine health.
University of Kentucky researchers from the College of Agriculture’s Maxwell H. Gluck Equine Research Center were instrumental in demonstrating the importance of the horse genome sequence. Last summer, Ernie Bailey, Professor of Veterinary Science, submitted a “white paper” proposal to NHGRI demonstrating the importance of the horse genome sequence to both scientific research and the horse industry and encouraged NHGRI to consider sequencing the horse genome. Co-authors on the proposal included scientists Teri Lear, Research Associate Professor of Veterinary Science, and Jamie MacLeod, Professor of Veterinary Science and Knight Chair for Musculoskeletal Sciences.
The sequencing of the horse genome will occur at the Broad Institute in Boston, with a final assembly to be available by the end of 2006. Scientists use the term “genome” to denote the entire complement of DNA sequences shown by an individual.
“While the main scientific objective of NHGRI is enabling a direct comparison of the horse and human genomes, this information will simultaneously revolutionize horse research,” said Bailey. “Knowing the full DNA sequence is a fundamental step necessary to open the ‘black box’ of equine genetics and will provide horse enthusiasts, horse professionals, equine veterinarians and equine scientists access to critical new information and genetic tools.”
According to MacLeod, the project will define the position and exact DNA sequence for every horse gene. Through further research, it will be possible to figure out if important genetic determinants exist for many of the critical health problems that afflict horses and the functional role that contributing genes have in different disease processes. Likewise, genes that regulate desirable traits can be identified and studied.
“The Horse Genome Project will have a profound impact on horse research worldwide,” said MacLeod.
According to Bailey, the decision by NHGRI to sequence the entire equine genome culminates more than 10 years of collaborative international studies and workshops coordinated by scientists at the Gluck Equine Research Center.
“Beginning in October 1995 with the first workshop meeting held here in Lexington, scientists from the United States, Europe, Asia, Australia, New Zealand and Africa have worked together to develop increasingly detailed versions of equine gene maps and related genetic tools for horse research. The efforts have facilitated identification of the causes for several inherited genetic disorders and desirable traits of horses,” he said.
“We applaud the leadership of the Gluck Equine Research Center scientists in encouraging the sequencing of the horse genome and expect that their efforts will continue to be important as gene functions are identified. The horse industry will certainly benefit as we begin to understand more about the health and well-being of the horse,” said UK College of Agriculture Dean Scott Smith.
The availability of the full horse sequence is expected to accelerate studies already underway and concurrently open important new opportunities for the Equine Genomics Research Group at the Gluck Equine Research Center. For instance, with information gained from the sequencing project, Bailey plans to investigate the genetics of the immune response and developmental diseases of young horses, MacLeod plans to use the sequence to study changes in gene expression that are important in the development of osteoarthritis and other joint diseases and Lear plans to investigate genetic mutations that cause congenital musculoskeletal diseases and mare infertility.
Major funding for the workshops and collaborative scientific activities has been provided by the Morris Animal Foundation, the Dorothy Russell Havemeyer Foundation and the United States Department of Agriculture.
Now that the horse genome sequence will be completed, the next step is using it effectively to benefit the health and welfare of horses, said Bailey. Toward this goal, the scientists working on the horse genome submitted a comprehensive grant application to the Morris Animal Foundation horse consortium proposal program. The Equine Medical Genetics pre-proposal submitted by this group was selected as the top priority by the foundation, which will now work to raise $2.5 million dollars to support the activity.
For more information, visit the NHGRI sequencing announcement and the Gluck Equine Research Center Genomics Research Group.