Polish draft horse study explores breed differences

Three-year-old Sokólski stallions at left (A), and three-year-old Sztumski stallions (B). Image: G. Polak

Poland has two main breeds of cold-blooded draft horses, but are they genetically distinct?

Both the Sokólski and Sztumski breeds are subject to conservation breeding as their populations have been dramatically reduced in recent decades.

While considered separate breeds, with separate stud books, their genetic differences have not been precisely determined, especially on the genome-wide level.

In a fresh study, Artur Gurgul and his colleagues from the University of Krakow and the National Research Institute of Animal Production set out to characterize what differentiates the two breeds.

They also sought to identify genome regions with the largest genetic differences.

The study team, writing in the open-access journal Animals, noted that the current breeding program of Sokólski and Sztumski horses occupy separate sections of stud books within cold-blooded horses and aims at clear separation of these populations as separate breeds.

This is dictated by the fact that they have their historical, genetic and other differences, as well as different environmental conditions which shaped their present character.

The study team undertook genetic analysis of samples taken from 107 Sokólski horses and 69 Sztumski horses, randomly sampled from breeding populations in different regions and from different studs.

The researchers found that, despite a generally low level of genetic differentiation, Sokólski and Sztumski horses are characterized by visible differences in their genetic profiles.

They found the presence of gene variants with a large effect on the differing traits in the two breeds.

“Based on these observations, we can conclude that further maintaining of separate stud books is reasonable and will allow preserving and increasing of the observed genetic differentiation among the studied draft horse populations.”

The study team comprised Gurgul, Igor Jasielczuk, Ewelina Semik-Gurgul, Klaudia Pawlina-Tyszko, Tomasz Szmatoła,Grażyna Polak and Monika Bugno-Poniewierska.

Gurgul, A.; Jasielczuk, I.; Semik-Gurgul, E.; Pawlina-Tyszko, K.; Szmatoła, T.; Polak, G.; Bugno-Poniewierska, M. Genetic Differentiation of the Two Types of Polish Cold-blooded Horses Included in the National Conservation Program. Animals 2020, 10, 542.

The study, published under a Creative Commons License, can be read here


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