November 11, 2009

Four researchers from the University of Kentucky Maxwell H. Gluck Equine Research Center and a faculty member in UK's Department of Computer Science were among 58 co-authors of a research article published Nov. 6 in Science that reported the first complete sequencing and assembly of the horse genome.

"This is the culmination of a project that began in 1995 from a workshop in Lexington, Ky.," said Ernie Bailey, co-author and professor of veterinary science.

Since the workshop, scientists from 25 countries have collaborated on what is known as the Horse Genome Project to build preliminary maps of the horse genome and use genomics tools to address horse health issues. The group has met twice a year since the first workshop. Bailey was the coordinator of the Horse Genome Project.

Other researchers from UK include Teri Lear, professor of veterinary science; James MacLeod, John S. and Elizabeth A. Knight chair, professor of veterinary science and director of UK's Equine Initiative; Stephen Coleman, graduate student in the department of veterinary science; and Jinze Liu, professor of computer science.  

"The frequent meetings stimulated research," Bailey said. "Every six months we needed a new discovery to present. With over 120 scientists active in the workshop, progress was rapid."

Even so, the consortium of scientists working on the horse genome did not have sufficient resources to actually sequence the entire genome. These skills and resources existed only at the laboratories that had completed the human genome sequence in 2003. In 2005, Bailey submitted a formal request, co-authored by scientists active in the workshop, asking the National Human Genome Research Institute to sequence the horse genome and integrate with existing physical and genetic maps. In February 2006, the genetic sequencing of the horse began using a Thoroughbred mare named "Twilight" from Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine in Ithaca, N.Y. DNA sequencing of the horse genome was completed five months later by the Broad Institute, a research collaboration of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University.

The sequencing, which was announced by the National Human Genome Research Institute in February 2007, indicated the horse genome consists of about 2.7 billion base pairs of DNA. The horse genome was found to be very similar to the organization and sequence of the human genome. Therefore, advances in human genomic research can readily be applied to the horse. Likewise, discoveries made with horses can be applied to improve human health.  Research currently under way around the world on equine exercise physiology, infectious diseases, reproduction, development and performance are likely to benefit human health.   

The information from the sequencing of the horse genome is currently being used at the Gluck Equine Research Center to study diseases of skeletal development and aspects of infectious diseases and reproduction. 

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