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Thoroughbred racehorse mitochondrial DNA demonstrates closer than expected links between maternal genetic history and pedigree records



M.A. Bower, McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, University of Cambridge, Downing Street, Cambridge CB2 3ER, UK. Tel: 01223 339330; Fax: 07990 514733; E-mail:


The potential future earnings and therefore value of Thoroughbred foals untested in the racing arena are calculated based on the performance of their forebears. Thus, lineage is of key importance. However, previous research indicates that maternally inherited mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) does not correspond to maternal lineage according to recorded pedigree, casting doubt on the voracity of historic pedigrees. We analysed mtDNA of 296 Thoroughbred horses from 33 maternal lineages and identified an interesting trend. Subsequent to the founding of the Thoroughbred breed in the 16th century, well-populated maternal lineages were divided into sub-lineages. Only six in 10 of the Thoroughbreds sampled shared mitochondrial haplotype with other members of their maternal lineage, despite having a common maternal ancestor according to pedigree records. However, nine in 10 Thoroughbreds from the 103 sub-lineages sampled shared mtDNA with horses of their maternal pedigree sub-lineage. Thus, Thoroughbred maternal sub-lineage pedigree represents a more accurate breeding record than previously thought. Errors in pedigrees must have occurred largely, though, not exclusively, at sub-lineage foundation events, probably due to incomplete understanding of modes of inheritance in the past, where maternal sub-lineages were founded from individuals, related, but not by female descent.

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