It's in their DNA: 'Speed gene' of greatest ever thoroughbreds traced back to ONE horse 300 years ago

Posted: January 29, 2012 at 11:49 pm

Gene traced back to single 17th century British

Experts analysed data from nearly 600

By Chris Parsons

Last updated at 9:44 AM on 28th January 2012

They are some of the world's greatest ever horse racing
names, but new research has suggested that the likes of
Seabiscuit, Man O'War, Secretariat and Seattle Slew may all
have a distant genetic connection.

Researchers have claimed that all the best thoroughbreds
of racing are all very distantly related after tracing the
'speed gene' they all share to a single ancestor from the 17th

Experts at University College Dublin analysed DNA from
nearly 600 horses and 22 modern breeds, and were able to
predict what the horses had in common genetically.

Scientists analysing horse DNA traced the 'speed gene' back
to a single British mare in the 17th century

Their results showed how the 'speed gene' which saw
racing greats like Man O'War and Seabiscuit power to victory
was passed to the famous horses from a single founder, a
British mare around 300 years ago.

The British ancestor was racing in the mid-17th century
at a time when local British breeds were pre-eminent in racing
horses and before the foundation of the thoroughbred


In finding the 'speed gene', a C type myostatin gene
variant, researchers studied genetic data from hundreds of
horses, as well as the skeletal remains of 12 thoroughbred
stallions born between 1764 and 1930.

Their research also included DNA from 330 elite
performing thoroughbreds, 40 donkeys and two zebras.

Legend: U.S. thoroughbred Seattle Slew remains the only horse
to win the Triple Crown while undefeated

Iconic: Man O'War, thought to be one of the greatest
thoroughbreds of all time, won 20 of his 21 races.

Record breaker: U.S. horse Secretariat set records in two
Triple Crown races which still stand to this day

Famous: Seabiscuit became the subject of a book and two films
followings its success

Modern variants recently traced successful thoroughbreds
back to legendary mare Nearctic, who lived between 1954 and

The variant branched out to Nearctic's son Northern
Dancer, which according to LiveScience was the most bred
stallion of modern times.

Norther Dancer never finished lower than third and won 14
of his 18 races.

But the new research has now traced the success of modern
thoroughbreds back to a single horse over 300 years ago.

Researcher Emmeline Hill, a genomics scientist at
University College Dublin who led the study, said: 'Changes in
racing since the foundation of the Thoroughbred have shaped the
distribution of 'speed gene' types over time and in different
racing regions.

Research: Dr Emmeline Hill, pictured with Irish trainer Jim
Bolger, conducted the study to discover the genetic links
between successful thoroughbreds

'But we have been able to identify that the original
'speed gene' variant entered the Thoroughbred from a single
founder, which was most likely a British mare about 300 years

'Having first identified the 'speed gene' in 2010, we
decided to see if we could trace the origin of the gene variant
using population genetics coupled with pedigree

'We wanted to understand where speed in the Thoroughbred
came from.'

Researchers said all great sprinting horses shared two
genes associated with muscle development.

The genetic combination was not present in regular farm
horses, donkeys or zebras.


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It's in their DNA: 'Speed gene' of greatest ever thoroughbreds traced back to ONE horse 300 years ago

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