The genetic puzzle
Costing some $15 million, researchers put the final piece of a scientific puzzle on the horse genome sequence that totalled 2.7 billion DNA base pairs.
The early February announcement from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's (MIT) Broad Institute that Equus caballus was added to the growing list of species genetically sequenced followed last year's unveiling of the dog. The map went global and made available to genetics researchers to spur new studies.
"I never expected to have this completed in my working lifetime. All the things that can be done at the genome level, you can do in horses. That was not true a year ago," Antczak tells DVM Newsmagazine.
There are 80 known conditions in horses that are genetically similar to disorders seen in humans. The list starts with musculoskeletal problems and ends with cardiovascular and respiratory diseases. The next leg of this trip will be aimed at diagnostic testing methods or continuing research into new treatments.
The findings are big, but the potential this work holds on improving the health of the horse is even bigger.
The sequencing is a culmination of work conducted by 20 institutions internationally and coordinated through Dr. Ernie Bailey of the University of Kentucky's Gluck Equine Research Center. Funded by the National Human Genome Research Institute, one of the National Institutes of Health, the genetics team at Broad carried out the sequencing and assembly of the horse genome.
"Just imagine yourself flying. We started this project at 30,000 feet. You can imagine that you don't see a great level of detail. Now with the sequence, we will be working at the ground level. That's a major accomplishment," Antczak says.
The landing took Broad's Kerstin Lindblad-Toh's team one year, a far faster and cheaper ride compared to the eye-watering 13-year, $2.7-billion price tag for the human genome still lauded as one of the greatest feats in science exploration. The process improved, Antczak reports, and the velocity of mapping work accelerated exponentially.
"The horse community really hit the jackpot last year when NIH added the species to the list they are sequencing," Antczak explains. "The horse became an attractive species to NIH both for its value to human medicine and its application to human medicine. But they did so on the basis of work that has gone on by horse geneticists in an organized fashion."