Out today is new research from a team of international collaborators, including the University of Minnesota, finding that a newly discovered equine gene is responsible for differentiating the ways in which domesticated horses move compared to those found in the wild.
The findings are published in the journal Nature, in the paper “Mutations in DMRT3 affect locomotion in horses and spinal circuit function in mice”.
University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine researchers Molly McCue, D.V.M., Ph.D., James Mickelson, Ph.D. and Jessica Petersen, Ph.D. contributed to the discovery of a naturally occurring genetic mutation in the domestic horse which results in altered movement – otherwise known as locomotion.
The mutation was found to alter the transmission of nerve signals in the horse’s spinal cord, meaning that some domestic horses were found to be capable of moving differently than wild horses.
Across history, this genetic mutation –and the resulting differentiation in movement— has led humans to select horses with the mutation for domestication because of the animal’s speed and comfort in riding.
“To our knowledge, horses are the only domestic species where humans have selected for altered locomotion,” said Dr. McCue. “That’s an interesting finding given that each gaited breed of horse has a unique pattern of locomotion.”
For example, only horses possessing the genetic mutation are normally capable of “pacing” (a “2-beat” way horses walk or run seen here). Two-beat gaits, including pacing, have proven themselves faster in races than the alternative way of walking called a “4-beat ambling gait”.
Horses with the genetic mutation excel in competitions including harness race performing (races where the horse pulls a buggy) and in alternating “gaits” (ways of walking) in comparison to their peers without the mutation.
When it comes to the racetrack, this genetic discovery would make it seem that not all breeds are created equally.