Identifying genes that will make it to the track new
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EQUINOME:DR EMMELINE Hill, a horse genomics researcher, and Irish racehorse trainer Jim Bolger have co-founded a company that will provide genetic tests for thoroughbreds.
The test is based on research by Hill into athletic performance traits in horses conducted and the project was supported by the Irish Thoroughbred Breeders Association which provided the required DNA samples from elite racehorses.
“The aim is to develop genetic tools to assist breeders and trainers in their decision making,” says Hill. “That information can be used at various stages of the life-cycle, from informed selection and sales decisions for young stock to fine-tuning racing strategy or training, and optimising breeding potential.”
Currently breeders have to wait and observe the racing or breeding performance of a racehorse to see whether “winning genes” have been inherited.
Racehorse breeders naturally and intuitively use genetics in their decisions, she says, because they use pedigrees which reflect genetics. “What we will be providing will be information about the genes underlying those pedigrees.”
For Hill the project offered an opportunity to merge her academic interest in genetics with her passion for breeding and racing horses.
Racing is in the family and her grandfather, Charmain Hill, was the owner of Dawn Run.
Equinome was founded last year to commercialise her research and she said the plan is to start providing tests over the coming months. It will be the first company ot offer such a test.
Based on the level of support provided by the industry during her research since 2004, Hill is relatively confident about the commercial potential of the product.
“For the first time we are introducing scientific tools into the world of breeding horses. If the tool is useful then I expect it will become widespread and that breeders and people in the industry will utilise it,” she says.
“My research adds a level of information that wasn’t already there. It will allow people to better make decisions about their horses and to use information to maximise the genetic potential of each horse.”
Equinome is based at NovaUCD and won the campus incubation centre’s start-up award for 2009.
Hill’s research started in 2004 when she received a Science Foundation Ireland President of Ireland Young Researcher Award which provided the basis for her five-year study of the genomic performance of racehorses.