NEWS: A Gene That Determines Your Horse’s Personality?
Scientists are discovering that there’s a grain of truth in breed stereotypes.
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There are all kinds of unofficial methods to gain some insight into a horse’s personality–from the size of its ears to the location of cowlick swirls. And of course, different horse breeds and types all have a reputation for certain traits–Thoroughbreds being hot and reactive, draft horses being gentle giants, and warmbloods being a little, um, slow.
Of course there are exceptions to all of these, but it turns out that there is an actual genetic basis for different breed personality types.
A recent study out of the University of Tokyo has found similarities within breeds for the D4 dopamine receptor, which is related to the reward center of the brain. In humans, this particular gene has been linked to “novelty-seeking” traits, as well as psychiatric issues like schizophrenia, addiction and bipolar disorder. In dogs, it has been linked to the level of aggression or impulsivity. So, as you might imagine, differences in the D4 dopamine receptor can have a huge effect on personality.
Dr. Yusuke Hori studied analyzed genetic samples from 70 different horses of seven different breeds–Thoroughbred, Selle Francais, Criollo, Hokkaido, Taishu, Yonaguri, and a native Korean breed–and found that each breed showed similarities in allele frequency on the D4 dopamine receptor–that is, horses of the same breed had the same (or similar) version of the receptor gene. The Japanese horses, for example, had completely different allele patterns on the D4 dopamine receptor than the Thoroughbreds and Selle Francais horses, both breeds of European origin.
“These differences could be the basis of breed differences in behavior, which would be really interesting,” Hori said. “But we need more studies to confirm this hypothesis.”
Of course, multiple other environment factors could affect a horse’s personality, from training to herd dynamics to the conditions the horse is kept in. But wouldn’t it be awesome if one day you could order a genetic test in a vet check, and find out whether the horse you were going to buy had the genetic potential to be a complete nutcase or not?
To read the report on the experiment, you can access a full PDF here.
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