Deakin Communicating Science 2016

EES 200/101

What if we could alter the genetics of an animal to benefit us?

Racing, is by far the biggest horse industry, and has brought well-known names such as Pharlap, Seabiscuit and most recently Black Caviar to households throughout the world, I’m sure you would have a vague idea of these names even if you can’t tell a racehorse from a pony. These horses were champions in their racing career, but once retired it is unsure if the offspring of these champions could produce the same calibre of speed, or maybe even one who exceeds all expectations. Could these elite champions produce greater horses through genes alone? Could genetic modification produce elite racehorses and reduce the amount of unsuccessful race horses?

Only recently in 2013, was a fragment of Phar Lap’s tooth was taken from his skeleton for DNA analysis in the hopes to analysis how different his genome is of the common race horse today. Although in Europe, sequencing entire genomes for further research isn’t an uncommon practice, but unfortunately bans the usage of cloned horses. So unfortunately we won’t be seeing Black Caviar 2.0 on our screens any time soon. But this spectacular horse may in fact benefit every other racehorse yet to be born if her genome was examined.

Genetic engineering, its everywhere around us and its soon to take over more and more industries. Otherwise known as genetic modification, its where the direct manipulation of an organism’s genome using biotechnology. This is all in the name of science and benefiting our human race right?

But what if we could tweak the genetics and make it so every born racehorse has a fighting chance at winning that podium place. What if we could make every horse faster, and more athletic than the last? But more importantly, what if we could limit the amount of racehorses who are just too slow or don’t make the cut.

Morals come into play when we talk about genetically modifying the genome of any species, but it happens regardless of what others may think. Animal activists and anti-racing protestors would be pleased to hear that the Racing Industry are looking into ways to see what they can do about the amount of racehorses who don’t make it to the track and end up in the paddock of a teenage girl who spoils them rotten with kisses and carrots. But I’m sure they’d find something else to direct their anger at.

Black Caviar, a prize race horse who was undefeated in all her starts. Its only normal that her full brother would sell for $5 million dollars at auction if he did possess the same impeccable speed and stamina as his sister.  He sold for this astonishing amount just due to his genetics, he hasn’t been trialled or even sat on yet but he still fetches a cool amount of money that I would one day wish to have at my disposal. If that’d ever happen. But what if he was a dud? Preferred to walk the length of the track and had no motivation to run, what a gamble that has been made!

Though controversial, genetic modification could prevent owners and trainers from losing insane amounts of money in an industry that is based purely on how fast an animal can run.


2 comments on “What if we could alter the genetics of an animal to benefit us?

  1. sesparon
    May 6, 2016

    I am a horsey person, so I have a good understanding of what you are trying to covey and the direction your blog is heading in.

    The mention that the genetics of a horse as well as what genes are pasted down mostly determines whether or not the horse will be a winner or a good racer peaked my interest. I researched into Phar Lap’s pedigree and found that both is sire and dam did not have much of a racing career or did not have one at all. In fact Phar Lap’s dam produced around two foals, including Phar Lapp, who were successful in racing out of over ten foals that she had. So what would genetics have to say in this perceptive? As I think there would be many other racing thoroughbreds who wouldn’t have such a good heritage like Black Caviar. As I know you are aware that training, feed and upbringing are some of the other things that could contribute to making a racehorse, from your brackets.

    And so I don’t think studying the genome of champions would help to much. Yes, finding out what chromosomes determines a good runner would be interesting from a science point of view. But relying on this gene alone and splicing a horse together just for racing sounds a bit inhumane. Additionally with everyone jumping on the genetic engineering bandwagon, where would science limit itself? And would horse racing still be a fair race?


  2. djpye
    May 8, 2016

    An interesting take for looking at genetic engineering. You say that genetic engineering is soon to take over many industries, I believe that it is already at the forefront! Cattle, particularly dairy cows, are genetically selected for those that produce the most milk. We selectively breed our dogs to create all these new and exciting pets, and of course horses: those selected for their speed as you discuss, even back when GM was still unheard of we were choosing which horses we would use to breed for plowing crops, and all manner of tasks.


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This entry was posted on April 27, 2016 by in Burwood - Wednesday 11am.

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