Where do racehorses get their speed? How can we reduce the spread of bacterial infections among hospitalised horses and the staff who care for them? Are bog spavins much of a problem among Clydesdales?
Three recently published studies delve into these questions:
1. Thoroughbred racing – Can the genetic basis of speed in racehorses be pinpointed?
European researchers have found that one variation of a gene that plays a key role in muscle development originated in a mare who lived in Great Britain about three hundred years ago. The gene is a variation of the myostatin gene “MSTN”, and remained rare in the population until the 1960s when the stallion Northern Dancer, by Nearctic, began passing it on to his offspring. It appears that this may have played a key role in Northern Dancer becoming one of the most influential Thoroughbred sires in the twentieth century. (Read the abstract of the study here)
It has always fascinated me how random events, such as the mutation of genes to form new variations, can alter the course of an entire breed’s history. For example, what would Thoroughbred racing have been like today if that mare had never had a single foal?
Would it have made much of a difference? Have other “speed genes” been lost due to the random nature of life and genetics?