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The Full Monty

The field of Equine Genetics is not only a long way behind other livestock fields, in terms of using genomic information to aid selection and mating decisions, but it is light years behind the field of human genetics. Just this week, two companies have announced that there should be machines available by the end of the year that will make it possible to sequence the complete human genome for about $1,000. When you consider that it costs around $300 per sample to use the Equine 70KSNP chip (this just gives data on around ~65,000 SNPs with less than half of these being Thoroughbred SNPs - the rest are other breeds), the ability for the whole genome to be sequenced for three times more, is certainly very appealing in terms of what could be achieved.

Indeed, Alex Planes from the Motley Fool wrote a well thought out article on what is occurring with the real possibility that within 3-5 years the ability to sequence the complete human genome may be as little as $10. If this is indeed possible and applied to the equine genome, the ability to do large scale genomic research on common equine diseases, and more importantly use the genome to select and plan matings in a more orderly fashion should see some genuine genetic gains being made with potentially sounder horses that are more specifically bred and identified for unique areas. It would certainly change the way we currently do business.

It is possible, and indeed probable that the equine field will move slower than what it could and a lot of the promise of genomics won't be realized for a decade or more, but not for the reasons that you may think. When you are talking about a complete genome sequence, you are talking about the genetic code of some 22,000+ genes, which is an awful lot of data to be both storing and interpreting. Setting aside storage concerns, Bioinformaticians, those scientists/geneticists that understand both how genetics works and how to use and analyze the genomic data, are about as 'in-demand' a profession as it comes right now and as the equine field, in terms of wealth and importance is a long way behind when compared to the human and other livestock fields. It is quite probable that while the potential may be there for genetics to make big strides with the equine field, especially in terms of performance, the scientists required to make this happen won't be available, or if they are that they will cost more than anyone is willing to pay. While to a certain extent the equine field will be able to hitchhike on the back of other livestock fields, in terms of using similar technologies and mathematical algorithms to make mating and selection decisions, it is most likely that a large proportion of the industry will be using the current 'tools' they have to make less efficient and accurate mating and selection decisions for some time ahead.

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