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Scientists trot out horse genome

A Bernese geneticist is among an international team of scientists to have unravelled and mapped the 2.7 billion building blocks of horse DNA.

Tosso Leeb from the genetics institute of the VetSuisse Faculty at Bern University said scientists could use this knowledge to understand the genetic aspects of equine physiology and disease – which could also benefit humans.

A genome is the complete set of genes – the basic units of heredity – and associated regulatory DNA found in an organism's cell.

DNA is the genetic "alphabet" that contains instructions for the development and functioning of all known living organisms. The "letters" of the alphabet are four molecular units (bases): A, C, G and T. These "building blocks" form "sentences" (genes), which are kept in "volumes" (chromosomes).

Whereas humans have 23 pairs of chromosomes, around 23,000 genes and just over three billion DNA "building block" base pairs, horses have 32 pairs of chromosomes, around 20,000 genes and 2.7 billion base pairs.

In a statement on Thursday, Leeb said the results of the project, to be published in the journal Science, would help determine differences between horses and find the DNA responsible for various characteristics and diseases.

These, he said, include the leopard complex, a group of genetically related coat patterns in horses. The genes for the leopard complex are also linked to abnormalities in vision.

Horses can also suffer from asthma and other respiratory problems and scientists are hoping that any new knowledge could contribute to the treatment of humans. and agencies