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Single gene responsible for the assorted gaits of horses

L. S. Anderson, M. Larhammar, F. Memic, H. Wootz and others

HORSES show considerable variation in the combination of limb movements with three naturally occurring gaits; walk, trot and canter/gallop. Some horses can use alternate gaits, typically at intermediate speed; Icelandic horses can tölt (ambling gait) and/or perform at pace. This study aimed to investigate at a molecular level, the movement patterns of horses and why these differences arise.

Seventy Icelandic horses were initially studied and categorised into four-gaited (walk, tölt, trot and gallop) and five-gaited (walk, tölt, trot, gallop and pace) groups and a genome-wide analysis performed. This revealed a highly significant association between the ability to pace and the difference of one nucleotide on a particular gene, DMTR3. The researchers then went on to develop a test for the mutation and discovered it was common in horses that display alternate gaits, such as the paso fino, and frequently found in horses bred for harness racing, such as the American standardbred – a breed which interestingly has subdivided into two populations, pacers and trotters, because of assortative mating.

Further research was carried out in parallel on mice, which revealed that DMTR3 neurons were essential for configuring the …

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