Genomic transformation of horses in the last five millennia
Since the domestication of the horse, horses have served several purposes. For example horses were used in warfare, traveling, agriculture and nowadays for sport. The origin of domestication of the horse remains unknow so far. However, the horse genome is known to have undergone large changes within the last ~2,300 years.
The use of molecular tools provides the possibility to analyse the ancestry of horses. The aim of this study was to clarify the origins of domestic horses and to reveal their transformation by past equestrian civilizations.
The study was executed by analysing a dataset including genomic information of 129 ancient horses, 30 modern horses and genome-scale data from 132 ancient individuals. Of the samples, 245 were genetically confirmed as horses. Other samples were for example donkeys and 27 mules.
The results show that during early domestication two, now extinct, horse lineages existed. One at the far west (Iberia) and one at the far east (Siberia) of Eurasia. However, neither contributed significantly to modern horse diversity. The results also show that multiple alleles associated with racing, including the MSTN “speed gene”, only increased in frequency in the last millennium. Overall, the development of modern breeding has impacted genetic diversity more dramatically than breeding in the previous millennia.
Expert opinion by Anouk van Breukelen
These results give an interesting insight into the ancestry of the modern horse. Large gaps remain in the knowledge about the origin of the modern domesticated horse which asks for further research.
> From: Fages et al., Cell (2019) 1-17. All rights reserved to Elsevier Inc.. Click here for the online summary.