$1.5m funding for thoroughbred DNA research

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University College Dublin professors Emmeline Hill and Lisa Katz are leading research into genetic and epigenetic contributions to exercise, disease and behaviour traits in racehorses.
University College Dublin professors Emmeline Hill and Lisa Katz are leading research into genetic and epigenetic contributions to exercise, disease and behaviour traits in racehorses. Image by Madison Buening

An equine research project investigating the dynamic interplay that exists between the inherited DNA sequence of a horse and the environment has been awarded €880,000 ($NZ1.5m, $US1m).

The five-year project by University College Dublin (UCD) researchers Professor Emmeline Hill and Professor Lisa Katz is part of a total €10.2 million ($NZ15m, $US8.5m) in funding awarded to 14 UCD projects through the Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) Frontiers for the Future Programme.

The research team led by Hill, from the UCD School of Agriculture and Food Science, and Katz, from the UCD School of Veterinary Medicine, will investigate genetic and epigenetic contributions to exercise, disease and behaviour traits in racehorses, using sophisticated genomics and computational technologies to evaluate how the early life environment of the foal, weanling, yearling and young racehorse influences their DNA.

Research Professor Emmeline Hill, left, and Professor Lisa Katz will investigate genetic and epigenetic contributions to exercise, disease and behaviour traits in racehorses.
Research Professor Emmeline Hill, left, and Professor Lisa Katz will investigate genetic and epigenetic contributions to exercise, disease and behaviour traits in racehorses. © University College Dublin

The project will build on a 15-year research programme led by Hill and Katz in equine exercise physiology and genomics at UCD which has uncovered many genetic contributions to athletic traits in the horse. The UCD research team has been a world leader in the development of genetic tests for racehorses.

“The benefits of exercise for health and wellbeing are well established, positively influencing clinical presentation of a variety of neurological, musculoskeletal and metabolic diseases,” Katz said.

“An emerging theme in our genetics research suggests a link between the exercise response and behavioural adaptability in the horse.”

Other academic collaborators on this project include Professor David MacHugh, UCD School of Agriculture and Food Science, Professor Keith Murphy, UCD School of Biomolecular and Biomedical Science and Professor Molly McCue, University of Minnesota.

Irish equine science company, Plusvital Ltd and racehorse trainer and breeder Jim Bolger, through his stud farm in Co. Wexford, will also contribute to this research project.

Other UCD recipients of the Frontiers for the Future Programme include €988,000 for LongHealth: The molecular basis and regulation of longer healthspan in mammals, and €247,000 for Targeted control of microglia polarisation after spinal cord injury.

Overall, Frontiers for the Future Programme grants totalling €53 million have been made to 71 projects from across 12 Higher Education Institutions.

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