Scientists pinpoint how the 'speed gene' works in thoroughbred racehorses

November 6, 2018, Trinity College Dublin

Scientists have pinpointed the genetic basis that explains why some thoroughbred racehorses are better equipped to race over sprint distances and others over longer distances. The Irish scientists, from Trinity College Dublin and UCD, have discovered the inner workings of a known "speed gene", which directly affects skeletal muscle growth and, in turn, race distance aptitude.

Thoroughbred horses are finely-tuned athletes with a high aerobic capacity relative to their skeletal muscle mass, which can be attributed to centuries of genetic selection for and stamina. Non-genetic factors such as variation in training schedule can also influence how racehorse aptitudes and preferences develop, but prior work by UCD Professor Emmeline Hill had demonstrated that different versions (polymorphisms) of the myostatin gene, a pronounced inhibitor of skeletal muscle growth, almost singularly account for gene-based race distance aptitude in racehorses.

This prior discovery earned the myostatin gene the moniker of "speed gene", with horses with 'CC' copies tending to develop into sprinters; those with 'CT' copies tending to develop into middle-distance performers; and those with 'TT' copies tending to be best equipped for long distances.

However, until now, scientists didn't know which element(s) of the gene held the secrets to understanding the all-important racing distance preference.

In the new study the scientists pinpointed the specific non-coding section of the "speed gene" that is exclusively responsible for limiting myostatin protein production in thoroughbreds which, in turn, affects development and race distance aptitude. The findings have just been published in leading international journal PLOS ONE.

Associate Professor in Biochemistry at Trinity College Dublin, Richard Porter, is the senior author of the journal article. The research was collaborative, involving research scientist Mary Rooney and Associate Professor Vincent Kelly from Trinity, together with Professor Emmeline Hill from the UCD School of Agriculture and Food Science.

Dr. Porter said: "Our data provides the first mechanistic evidence as to the specific element of the "speed gene" that acts as the sole protagonist in dictating its expression in the thoroughbred. As a result, this element is the key genetic factor in determining distance aptitude in thoroughbred horses. This knowledge is extremely valuable to thoroughbred breeders and trainers, in what is a multi-billion dollar industry."

Explore further: 'Speed gene' in modern racehorses originated from British mare 300 years ago

More information: Mary F. Rooney et al, The "speed gene" effect of myostatin arises in Thoroughbred horses due to a promoter proximal SINE insertion, PLOS ONE (2018). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0205664

Related Stories

Genes and athletic performance in Thoroughbred horses

November 15, 2010

Equinome, a leading equine genomics company, has announced the publication of four scientific papers by Equinome and University College Dublin researchers which describe significant advances in the understanding of the genes ...

Can Seabiscuit's DNA explain his elite racing ability?

October 29, 2018

Seabiscuit was not an impressive-looking horse. He was considered quite lazy, preferring to eat and sleep in his stall rather than exercise. He'd been written off by most of the racing industry after losing his first 17 races. ...

Family trees could pin down why racehorses are getting faster

June 25, 2015

Scientists have confirmed a pattern that many inveterate racing fans may have suspected for years: British horses are getting faster. But whether that is down to breeding techniques or other factors is less certain. The researchers ...

Recommended for you

Nanoscale Lamb wave-driven motors in nonliquid environments

March 19, 2019

Light driven movement is challenging in nonliquid environments as micro-sized objects can experience strong dry adhesion to contact surfaces and resist movement. In a recent study, Jinsheng Lu and co-workers at the College ...

OSIRIS-REx reveals asteroid Bennu has big surprises

March 19, 2019

A NASA spacecraft that will return a sample of a near-Earth asteroid named Bennu to Earth in 2023 made the first-ever close-up observations of particle plumes erupting from an asteroid's surface. Bennu also revealed itself ...

Levitating objects with light

March 19, 2019

Researchers at Caltech have designed a way to levitate and propel objects using only light, by creating specific nanoscale patterning on the objects' surfaces.

0 comments

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.