Horse genomics and the Dorothy Russell Havemeyer Foundation


In 1995, the Dorothy Russell Havemeyer Foundation (DRHF) conducted the First International Equine Gene Mapping Workshop in Lexington, Kentucky. Scientists working on horses needed information about the equine genome to better perform their research. The scientific advances of the Human Genome Project, begun in 1990, were providing tools and information that made this goal attainable. The DRHF conducted a series of horse genome workshops between 1997 and 2009 in San Diego, USA; Uppsala, Sweden; Brisbane, Australia; Pretoria, South Africa; Dublin, Ireland; Lake Tahoe, USA; and Newmarket, UK. Over 200 scientists from 20 countries around the world participated in these workshops, sharing ideas and resources, collaborating and creating a common genomics framework. In 2006, the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) in the USA chose to sequence the horse as a consequence, in part, of both the work done by this community of scientists and their research interests going forward. As a result, the complete DNA sequence of the horse is available online (Wade et al. 2009) and has enabled powerful new research methods for equine science.

This special issue of Animal Genetics was funded by the DRHF to underscore the importance of the genome to horse research. In this issue, scientists report research and discoveries made possible using the new genomic information. Indeed, the work includes gene discoveries and genetic characterization of horse breeds and sheds light on hereditary conditions that affect performance of horses. But the genome information is also useful to understand non-hereditary diseases and traits as well. Several reports in this issue address gene expression in connection with exercise and laminitis. Importantly, this is just the beginning. As scientists become more familiar with using genomic information for equine studies, we can anticipate more discoveries and the development of new diagnostic tests, therapeutic products and management approaches to improve the health and well-being of the horse.

The impact of these studies and the availability of genome information for the horse will be significant at many levels. Good health is a high priority for horses. Owners and breeders train and select horses for a wide variety of characteristics including conformation, athleticism, temperament, intelligence, speed, stamina and coat colour. Poor health can undo years of work on part of the horse owner. Furthermore, the horse industry contributes significantly to economies around the world. Although we no longer depend on horses for power and transportation, horses continue to be an important agricultural product. A 2005 study in the United States suggested that the horse industry had a $102 billion (indirect) impact and provided employment (indirect and induced) to more than 1.4 million people (American Horse Council, 2005). The worldwide economic impact of the horse is obviously much larger.

Use of the genome sequence in research will have far reaching effects on the health of horses and the health of the economy, worldwide. This should be remembered as a legacy from the Dorothy Russell Havemeyer Foundation.

Conflicts of interest

The author has declared no potential conflicts.