SOUNDER RACEHORSES VIA GENOMICS?

An article in the January 18, 2010 issue of Forbes caught my attention and got me thinking about its implications for racehorses.

The article, titled “Holy Cow,” explains how genomics has “revolutionized dairy farming.” Curtis Van Tassell grew up on a dairy farm and later became a geneticist with the United States Department of Agriculture. Through his research, he “is responsible for the biggest change in the past century in how dairy cows are bred and evaluated.”

Until now, it cost a farmer $50,000 to have a bull’s pedigree officially evaluated to determine whether the bull had genes that would lead to good milk production in his female offspring. This was done by a breeding company that looked at milk production and other traits of the bull’s female relatives. Van Tassell developed a substitute genetic test that costs only $250.

Forbes quotes Thomas Lawlor, who is director of research at the Holstein Association, about Van Tassell’s discovery: “Farmers are really excited. It allows them to test animals and get a read on their genetics earlier in life. You can look at a baby calf and know as much about him or her as you would a six- or seven-year-old cow.”

I found the following statement to be most intriguing: “Once the offspring of bulls and cows selected by the new genetic test are old enough to produce milk, the Holstein Association and other trade groups predict, the annual increase in milk production will double to 5%, while at the same time the cows’ longevity, hardiness, and fertility will improve.” In other words, an increase in performance and strength of the breed.

It would be a monumental step forward if research funded by racing industry organizations were to yield a genetic test for racehorses that enabled one to predict performance capabilities of offspring and, importantly, durability.

The Thoroughbred breeding and racing industry is commendably searching for ways to make the sport safer for horses and jockeys by focusing on such variables as track surfaces, medication practices, and shoeing. Even so, the giant step forward may come from genetic testing. A discovery could mitigate the harmful and heartbreaking breakdown problem in racing and its attendant public-relations negatives for the sport. Curtis Van Tassell’s work shows that this may be within the realm of genomics.

The Human Genome Project of the 1990s and early years of the 21st century opened the door to possibilities that were once in the realm of science fiction.

Please Click here to read the full Forbes article.

Copyright © 2010 Horse Racing Business

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