Researchers have identified a hot spot for genetic diversity in the Arabian horse breed, but international breeders hoping to access the blood lines will have a problem on their hands.
The horses are in Syria, a country embroiled in a long and brutal civil war between rebel factions and the regime of President Al Asaad.
The research was conducted by Anas Khanshour and Gus Cothran, from the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Science, at Texas A&M University.
The pair sequenced mitochondrial DNA from 251 Arabian horses to study the genetic diversity and evolutionary relationships of Arabian populations and to examine the traditional strain classification system that depends on maternal family lines using native Arabian horses from the Middle East.
The pair, whose findings have been published in the journal, BMC Genetics, found that while American Arabians showed relatively low diversity, the Syrian population was the most variable and contained a very rare and old haplogroup.
“The Middle Eastern horses had major genetic contributions to the Western horses and there was no clear pattern of differentiation among all tested populations,” they said.
“Our results also showed that several individuals from different strains shared a single haplotype, and individuals from a single strain were represented in clearly separated haplogroups.”
They concluded that native populations from the Middle East, such as Syrians, could be suggested as a hot spot of genetic diversity and may help in understanding the evolution history of the Arabian horse breed.
“Most importantly, there was no evidence that the Arabian horse breed has clear subdivisions depending on the traditional maternal-based strain classification system,” they said.
Maternal phylogenetic relationships and genetic variation among Arabian horse populations using whole mitochondrial DNA D-loop sequencing.
Anas M Khanshour and Ernest Gus Cothran
BMC Genetics 2013, 14:83 doi:10.1186/1471-2156-14-83
The full study can be read here.