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Researchers begin study mapping genetic diseases in horses

Researchers are developing a new way to identify and track genetic diseases in horses.

When it comes to treating diseases in horses, understanding the genetic mapping of these animals' bodies serves researchers as a blueprint for figuring out different treatment approaches. These "maps" are called the genome of an organism, which show scientists the complete set of DNA for an animal as well as all of the corresponding genes. One recent study has outlined a new plan to redefine the genome sequence of a horse, which, in turn, may help researchers, veterinarians and trainers alike be able to better identify deadly diseases in horses quicker and more accurately than ever before.

Building a new genome sequence for horses
A team consisting of Kentucky and Danish researchers has been awarded with a three-year, $155,000 grant from the Morris Animal Foundation to help fund them construct a more accurate genome sequence for today's domestic horse. The reason for developing a new genome structure is to improve researchers' comprehension of the modern horse's genes and DNA structures, so they can better understand genetic information to treat serious illnesses.

Genome sequencing is how researchers read and decode all the genetic information found in DNA strands, and it helps them quickly pinpoint irregularities within the genes, typically signaling a disease is present. In a lot of cases, horses are already genetically predisposed to inherit a disease, such as hyperkalemic periodic paralysis, grey horse melanoma and malignant hyperthermia, according to the Irongate Equine Clinic.

The need for a new genome sequence was determined after many researchers concluded that the current format, known as "EquCab2," was found to have a few flaws when it came to accurately locating generic predisposed diseases in horses. With new and advanced technology, the researchers are confident that they will be able to establish a more efficient genome sequence that will allow scientists to find new ways to treat some of the newer, more complex diseases affecting horses today.

Dr. Ted Kalbfleisch, a professor at the University of Louisville and lead researcher in the study, elaborated on how his team's intentions to build upon the previously established genome sequence and create a more accurate model through enhanced technology.

"In 2009, Morris Animal Foundation helped fund the first genome reference sequence for the domestic horse," Kalbfleisch said in a press release. "We intend to build on this earlier work. In the past five years, there have been dramatic improvements in sequencing technology as well as the computational hardware and algorithms required to analyze the data generated by the technology. Therefore, we now have the tools necessary to vastly improve the reference genome for the horse." 

Understanding genetically predisposed diseases
When it comes to comprehending how genetically predisposed diseases in horses arise, it's important to know that most of these conditions are only specifically attributed to certain breeds. For example, quarter horses have several types of genetic diseases that predominantly affect its breed compared to other types of horses, such as skeletal muscle abnormalities to being born with skin infections. Speaking with your veterinarian about distinct genetic diseases associated with your horse's breed can help you identify potential symptoms in the future, leading toward quicker treatment.

Getting your horse tested for potential genetic disorders at a young age is highly recommended. This is why researchers who make strides in improving how we can identify genetic disorders faster are crucial to enhancing all the different forms of treatment for horses. While current testing methods are relatively reliable for detecting possible diseases, advancements in technology and medicine will make correcting genetically predisposed conditions even easier in the future.

Kalbfleisch added that his team's research will benefit all types of people associated with the equine industry, as horses will live longer, healthier lives through this innovative research.

"We expect our research to have substantial impact because the horse research community has actively moved to the translational application of genomics in examining important questions in equine science," Kalbfleisch said. "The improved reference genome we will map will directly improve both the quality and productivity of research being carried out in the equine industry."

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