February 1, 2013

A genomic study of the ancient Akhal-Teke breed has been funded by an American philanthropist with a keen interest in the breed and is performed at the Department of Animal Breeding and Genetics, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences in cooperation with researchers at Uppsala University. The scientists have been involved in several groundbreaking equine genomic projects such as the identification of the gait gene that inhibits the transition from trot to gallop at high speeds in the Standardbred and in the Icelandic horse it enables the flying gait, it is also present in other gaited breeds. The team has also contributed to the study on the origin of the speed gene in the Thoroughbred. The Swedish University of Agriculture was the first institution in the world perform parentage verification with blood typing on horses beginning in the 60’s with Swedish Coldblood Trotters. This activity has generated a large biobank containing more than 300 000 samples from horses that can be used for research.

There will be a knowledge exchange within the scope of this project and genetics in general between the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and the Molecular Genetics Laboratory, State Association Turkmen Atlary, Turkmenistan. Turkmenistan is the country of origin for the breed and today manages the biggest population of the rare breed with a world wide population of 6 500 horses.

The genomics study aims to generate a map of genetic variation in the genome of the Akhal-Teke, detect the loci affected by selection and to detect genetic variants underlying specific traits in the Akhal-Teke such as performance and health and further resolve evolutionary relationships between the Akhal-Teke and other breeds of horses.
The study includes analysis of DNA-samples from Akhal-Tekes, selected to represent distinct trait classes. Samples will be subjected to Whole Genome Resequencing, WGS, to determine the genome wide patterns of genetic variation. The information generated with WGS will be used to scan the genome for signatures of selection. The study will screen alleles for uniquely and or preferentially observed in individuals expressing certain traits. These candidate genes will be subject of genome wide association analysis to investigate whether certain alleles coincide with phenotypic variation.

The results of the study, with additional funding, may be used for selective breeding to increase performance traits, , selective breeding to avoid homozygosity of lethal recessive alleles which could lead to abortion or foal mortality, selective breeding for advantageous traits without the risk of reducing genetic diversity in the breed and resource for future identification of genetic variants affecting traits in the horse as well as in other species.

First results of this study including 20 horses can be expected in the summer of 2013. Since the horse genome contains 2.6 Gb, the analysis of WGS is tedious due to the massive amount of data to analyze. Depending on the initial results, decisions will be taken on the direction of the study.

The Akhal-Teke breed is also included in a genomic multi- breed study at the same institution.

For more information and questions contact Jessica Eile Keith at jessica@gln.bz or phone number +1 352-209-0244

Photo credit: Artur Baboev www.fotart.ru
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