DNA analysis of a horseracing legend

Jun 26, 2013
DNA analysis of a horseracing legend
Phar Lap's skeleton in the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. Scientists are hoping to sequence its DNA. Credit: Michael Hall, courtesy of the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

A new chapter in the story of Phar Lap is about to be added by the University of Sydney as it leads an attempt to sequence the famous horse's DNA.

"Phar Lap's heart is in Canberra, his hide is in Melbourne, and his skeleton in the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. Now the museum has agreed to a 60mg piece of tooth from that skeleton coming to Sydney so we can unravel his genetic history," said Dr Natasha Hamilton, the team leader from the University's Faculty of Veterinary Science. Professor Claire Wade, also from the faculty, will be in charge of the genetic analysis.

The DNA extraction will be performed at the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA (ACAD), at the University of Adelaide, before being analysed at the University of Sydney.

"We are doing this out of scientific curiosity and all our data will be made publicly available. The DNA sequence will tell us if Phar Lap's genetic make-up looks like star racehorses of today, including whether he is a sprinter or a stayer (genetically better suited to running long distances)," Dr Hamilton said.

"We believe that no other southern hemisphere racehorses have had their whole genome sequenced before. By contrast, in Europe this research is quite popular and DNA analysis has been performed on notable horses such as Eclipse, racing's first superstar and an ancestor of 95 percent of today's thoroughbreds, and Hyperion, a popular sire from the 1930-50s who is found in numerous pedigrees."

DNA analysis of a horseracing legend
The fragment of Phar Lap's tooth given to the researchers for this project.

The information will be used in current Faculty of Veterinary Science research such as international studies to understand the basis of in different breeds of horses, the structure of the thoroughbred breed and the genetics underlying the physiology of exercise across all horse species.

The skeleton was treated by being boiled in a corrosive solution which will have fragmented the DNA.

"There is a possibility that we will not be able to get much usable DNA, as they were obviously not thinking about the possibility of future DNA extraction when they prepared Phar Lap's skeleton in the 1930s," said Professor Alan Cooper, ACAD Director.

Professor Claire Wade said that despite this limitation current whole genome sequencing methods can work with small pieces of DNA, so the researchers are hopeful they will be able to generate usable information.

The fragmentation of the DNA also means it would not be usable in other projects that require large amounts of good quality DNA such as cloning.

"So, sorry punters, there is no hope of Phar Lap II running around a few years from now," Dr Hamilton said.

This is not Phar Lap's first association with the University of Sydney. According to research quoted by Museum Victoria the horse was named by Aubrey Ping, a medical student at the University in the 1920s.

Explore further: Vermicompost leachate improves tomato seedling growth

Related Stories

New DNA test on roo poo identifies species

Jun 06, 2013

(Phys.org) —University of Adelaide researchers have developed a simple and cost-effective DNA test to identify kangaroo species from their droppings which will boost the ability to manage and conserve kangaroo populations.

Recommended for you

New device could make large biological circuits practical

6 hours ago

Researchers have made great progress in recent years in the design and creation of biological circuits—systems that, like electronic circuits, can take a number of different inputs and deliver a particular ...

Model evaluates where bioenergy crops grow best

9 hours ago

Farmers interested in bioenergy crops now have a resource to help them determine which kind of bioenergy crop would grow best in their regions and what kind of harvest to expect.

Vermicompost leachate improves tomato seedling growth

Nov 21, 2014

Worldwide, drought conditions, extreme temperatures, and high soil saline content all have negative effects on tomato crops. These natural processes reduce soil nutrient content and lifespan, result in reduced plant growth ...

User comments : 2

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

El_Nose
5 / 5 (1) Jun 26, 2013
they have his hide and his heart -- and there is no hope of full DNA?? -- maybe not from bones but there seem to be other sources.
nkalanaga
5 / 5 (1) Jun 26, 2013
It depends on how they were preserved. Many of the preservative chemicals denature the DNA, rendering it useless for genetic research.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.