Posted on: February 8, 2010 3:10 PM, by "GrrlScientist"
If you've worked at or been around a racetrack very much, as I have, you'll quickly realize that everyone there has their own pet idea for picking winners. Horse breeders have always relied on pedigree analysis and studying the horse's conformation to predict whether a particular racehorse is better suited for running short or longer distances. But this is an inexact science that can waste valuable time, money and sometimes, horses. Which makes one wonder whether modern molecular biology can be applied to the challenge of identifying specific genes that make a particular horse better suited to running sprints or distances?
"Everybody knows one horse can run faster than another -- most people want to know which one," said Emmeline Hill, a genetics researcher at University College Dublin in Ireland. "I want to understand why."
To gain an understanding of the athletic ability of Thoroughbreds, Dr Hill spearheaded a team of researchers that investigated the genetic factors that contribute to muscle growth. Muscle growth in animals is influenced in part by the myostatin gene (MSTN). MSTN produces a protein that contributes to muscle size development in a range of mammalian species: the animal can either have a compact, muscular body that is suited to short sprints or a longer, leaner body that is better for endurance.