DNA clue to superhorses
Scientists said they had identified a genetic variant that influences gait in horses, a potential boon for breeders but also for the quest to fix human spine injuries.
A patented DNA test became available from yesterday, enabling horse buyers to spot an animal with a higher genetic chance of success at harness racing, they said.
Reporting in the journal Nature, researchers in Sweden said the telltale gene had been unearthed in the Icelandic Horse, a breed that famously likes to pace.
Pacing is a peculiar kind of equine gait, in which the legs on one side of the animal move forward at the same time. It is particularly prominent among Icelandic horses, descendants of horses introduced to Iceland by the Vikings and recognised as a purebred strain that gives a smooth, sure-footed ride.
Building on earlier work on lab mice, a team led by Leif Andersson at Uppsala University and the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences compared the genetic code of 70 horses – 40 that could pace and 30 that could not.
What emerged starkly was that in the 40 pacing horses, there was a tiny change, of just one letter in the code, in a key gene known as DMRT3.
DMRT3 controls a protein in nerve cells in the spinal cord that, Dr Andersson believes, is crucial in the coordination of leg movements in vertebrates.