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University of Louisville leads new study to map disease genes in horses

University of Louisville

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IMAGE: Ted Kalbfleisch, Ph.D., of the University of Louisville is principal investigator in mapping a new genome of the domestic horse. view more

Credit: University of Louisville

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Morris Animal Foundation has awarded a three-year, $155,000 grant to a team of Kentucky and Danish researchers to build a new reference genome sequence for the domestic horse. The sequence will be a much needed tool for animal researchers worldwide and the equine industry in particular because it will significantly improve the ability to understand the role of genetics in animal health and well being.

Ted Kalbfleisch, Ph.D., of the University of Louisville Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, is the principal investigator on the grant. He will be joined in the research with Ludovic Orlando, Ph.D., of the Centre for GeoGenetics at the National History Museum, University of Copenhagen; and James MacLeod, V.M.D., Ph.D., of the Gluck Equine Research Center at the University of Kentucky.

Genome sequencing allows researchers to read and decipher genetic information found in DNA and is especially important in mapping disease genes - discovering the diseases a horse might be genetically predisposed to developing.

"In 2009, Morris Animal Foundation helped fund the first genome reference sequence for the domestic horse," Kalbfleisch said. "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."

The current reference genome for the horse, known as "EquCab2," has been beneficial in studying horses and their genetic predisposition to disease, but it is not without its shortcomings, Kalbfleisch said.

"The horse research community is working to understand the relationship among genomic structure, variation found within it and complex diseases and traits in the domestic horse," he said. "The EquCab2 reference genome was developed prior to the development of today's highly sophisticated technology.

"With the application of new high-throughput technologies we have available today, we will map the genome with a focus on what is known as the 'GC-rich regulatory regions.'"

These GC-rich regulatory regions control how genes are expressed (turned on) in order to participate in normal cellular processes. This work will enable scientists to better catalog genetic variation in these regions and understand how it affects health and performance.

"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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About Morris Animal Foundation

Morris Animal Foundation is a nonprofit organization that invests in science to advance animal health. The Foundation is a global leader in funding scientific studies for companion animals, horses and wildlife. Since its founding in 1948, Morris Animal Foundation has invested more than $92 million toward 2,300 studies that have led to significant breakthroughs in diagnostics, treatments, preventions and cures for animals. Learn more at http://www.MorrisAnimalFoundation.org.

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