MAF's equine genetic research under way

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Recent funding has led to the beginning of phase one of the Morris Animal Foundation's Equine Consortium for Genetic Research.

The consortium is a five-year, $2.5 million project to rapidly advance equine health. Led by University of Minnesota professors Jim Mickelson, PhD, and Dr. Stephanie Valberg, the consortium includes 32 scientists from 18 academic institutions throughout nine countries.

The AAEP Foundation, including the Aringo Memorial Fund, and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Keeneland Foundation, and individual donors all contributed to the funding of phase one.

As part of phase one, scientists will begin developing a unique set of research tools designed to lead to major advances in the health of horses worldwide.

The first of these research tools is single nucleotide polymorphism chips, which will allow researchers to define underlying genetic factors that influence highly heritable as well as common equine diseases. This will impact the health of horses as new ways to diagnose, treat, and prevent disease are developed. Also, the genetic information gained will serve as a valuable tool for managing breeding programs.

Dr. Valberg noted that the recent sequencing of the equine genome (see JAVMA, April 1, 2007) will mean major health breakthroughs for horses.

"An explosion of knowledge about human disease occurred after the human genome was sequenced in 2001. These rapid advances can now be paralleled in the horse with the sequencing of the equine genome in 2007 and the support of the Morris Animal Foundation equine consortium," Dr. Valberg said.

"We are really excited to soon have the tools that will take the equine research community to the forefront of scientific discovery."