Kick-off HORSEGENE project: breeding against heritable diseases

Published on
March 7, 2014

Osteochondrosis, insect bite hypersensitivity and chronic progressive lymphedema are heritable diseases that cause significant welfare problems in the horse, and loss to the horse breeding industry. To develop genomic tools for breeding against these heritable diseases in horses, several European research groups have recently obtained an EU FP7 grant. The HORSEGENE project brings together researchers and representatives of several universities and equine associations to identify associated genetic markers and optimize breeding strategies to improve equine welfare and reduce economic losses due to these diseases.

The HORSEGENE project aims to develop genomic tools for breeding against disease susceptibility in horses. State-of-the-art genomic technologies will be used to identify genetic markers associated with osteochondrosis, insect bite hypersensitivity and chronic progressive lymphedema. These diseases cause significant problems in horse industry, as they result in poor animal welfare and severe economic losses for horse owners and breeders. Osteochondrosis is an orthopaedic developmental disorder in young, growing horses and may lead to premature retirement of the horse as a result of chronic or recurrent lameness. Insect bite hypersensitivity is a seasonal allergic reaction to bites of Culicoides insects that results in a severe itch and self-mutilation. Both osteochondrosis and insect bite hypersensitivity are observed in many horse breeds worldwide. Chronic progressive lymphedema is particularly observed in several related heavy draught horse breeds and is caused by a systemic failure of the lymph system and skin elasticity network. Affected horses show progressive swelling, thickening and hardening of the skin of the lower limbs, which often ends in severe disfiguration and disability of the limbs. The mode of inheritance of these diseases appears to be complex and efforts to breed away from the problem often make limited progress when using traditional breeding strategies. Therefore, new breeding strategies are needed which incorporate associated genetic markers to be able to reduce the problems related to these diseases in the horse industry.

The HORSEGENE project brings together the efforts of European research groups that have been working on the genetics of disease susceptibility in horses for many years. Researchers from the University of Leuven (Belgium), Animal Health Trust (Great Britain), Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (Sweden) and Wageningen University (the Netherlands), as well as representatives of several equine associations, laboratories, studbooks and stud farms will collaborate to achieve our collective goal. The HORSEGENE project is concerned with research for the benefit of SME associations, lasts for three years and the total project budget amounts to 2.4 million euro.