How far away?
A new computer study by researchers at the University of Minnesota and Cornell University has concluded that the horse breed with the most impressive genetic potential is Equus caballus. The work, which appears in the April issue of Molecular Biology and Evolution , was supported by the National Institutes of Health, the University of Minnesota, New College of Florida, the University of Michigan and the National Geographic Society.
The top four horses with the most genetic potential are all from the Equus caballus lineage, but not by much. The study found that the Equus caballus that competed best with its four-letter genetic name was Hyracotherium ruthenicus, a wild-caught variety found in Africa and southern Asia. When this horse, which was only about 18 inches long at the time of the study, was bred with its four-letter gene name, it created a horse that was roughly 30 inches more than a horse that carried the Equus caballus gene but was a wild-caught breed.
“These data are very informative because these equines are very short and have very broad shoulders that are more like modern humans,” said study coauthor George Stranahan, a scientist in the Department of Genetics at Cornell University. “They also have short noses that are more like modern humans, and in addition, the horse that was bred from these horses is a little bit bigger than a modern human. Both characteristics tell us that this horse has very well-matched genes to the horse’s unique body and genetic profile.”
With the help of a data base of 644 horses with Equus caballus genetic characteristics, Stranahan and his research team determined which horses had the most potential for greatness based on the genes they carried. The study found that the best-growing horse with the most potential was Equus caballus. Equus caballus was the second most genetically productive breed — following closely behind Equus aculeatus. This breed, the second most prolific in the study, could produce roughly 40 horses per year.
“The ability to produce 40 horses each year is very impressive, given that at least two types of genetic defects have been found in Equus caballus,” said Dr. Chris Jones, a geneticist at Minnesota and head horse geneticist for the United States Olympic team. “To me, that is very impressive. This makes them a much better horse to have on the Olympic team than most of the other horses.”
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