Dr Emmeline Hill For centuries, the breeding techniques for thoroughbred racehorses have remained relatively unchanged. Breeders have relied on combining successful bloodlines, in the hope that the offspring will have a winning combination of genes.
To see if the winning genes have been inherited, the breeders have to observe the racing and breeding success of the progeny over an extended period of time.
But in 2009, we matched the genetic code of almost 200 thoroughbred racehorses with their performance on the track. This scientific analysis allowed us to identify what we called the 'speed gene' in thoroughbreds.
We classified the 'speed gene', or the muscle mass-regulating 'myostatin gene', into three types according to the combination of the 'C' and 'T' type DNA variants inherited from the parents -- one from the dam, and one from the sire.
Our genetic test shows that each thoroughbred racehorse has specific genetic traits linking them to an optimum racing distance.
The 'C:C' types will be better suited to fast, short distance sprint races; 'C:T' types will likely perform better over middle distances; and 'T:T' types will have more stamina, so will be more suited to middle-to-long distance races.
Then in 2011, we announced the identification of panels of genes that are critical for elite racing performance among thoroughbreds.
This 'Elite Performance Test' offered by our UCD spin-out company, Equinome, assesses the combination of favourable variants of genes that are known to contribute to anatomical, physiological and metabolic processes involved in exercise.
Coupled with a favourable management and training environment, this test can assist predictions regarding the genetic potential for a thoroughbred to become a champion.
This characterisation of the 'speed gene' and other genes contributing to the racing ability in thoroughbreds has the potential to transform the decisions made in the bloodstock industry -- a multi-billion euro global business.
With this genetic information, breeders can optimise their purchasing and training decisions and better target suitable races for their thoroughbreds.
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 of their racehorses.
Irish Independent Supplement