The hottest bit of research in breeding today centers on the use of DNA as a tool in evaluating horses and in planning matings. Earlier this month, I wrote about the company created by Emmeline Hill and parters called Equinome. It has already launched a product claiming to decipher genetic information about muscle development that determines whether a racer would be a sprinter, miler, or stayer.
The press release for this new business brought sufficient excitement to the bloodstock ‘net that Hill is the subject of an interview in the new issue of The Thoroughbred Times by John Sparkman. He also has a new post on the subject.
Such is the interest in the research on DNA that bloodstock researcher and technology innovator Les Brinsfield brought an article to my attention from New Zealand. There a group of researchers from China and New Zealand led by Allan Davie are working to find the genetic markers in mitochondrial DNA that would explain the Thoroughbred’s outstanding aerobic capacity for utilizing oxygen.
If they could find differences in mtDNA between racehorses who had high aerobic function and those with lower aerobic function, then they could develop tests to select those horses with high aerobic function before they raced or even if they were unraced.
The researchers are trying to find these markers as a preliminary to a commercial venture because the efficient use of oxygen is the “physiological foundation for elite racing performance in both humans and horses.”
We all want to know which horses are going to be the fastest, and this research could be one way to do that, if the teams from China and New Zealand are successful.
The twist to all the products and plans is that they haven’t actually proven anything in concrete terms. None of them have been used to produce successful racehorses who then have greater predictability for producing more good athletes.
Will that sort of progressive improvement ever result from DNA research? Well, it might. But given what we currently understand about genetic information and its recombination, chance and the vast statistical probabilities of the many different factors that all work in accord suggest that day could be a long way off.