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Friday, May 2, 2008

Racehorses and genetic hurdles

There's a fascinating article in today's WSJ about "Racing's Royal Bloodline." It turns out that most racehorses in the U.S. today are related to one horse, Native Dancer, who died in 1967. And along with genes for great speed have come problems:

Like hemophilia in the Russian royal family, Native Dancer's line has a tragic flaw. Thanks in part to heavily muscled legs and a violent, herky-jerky running style, Native Dancer and his descendants have had trouble with their feet. Injuries have cut short the careers of several of his most famous kin, most notably Barbaro, a great-great-great-grandson who was injured during the Preakness Stakes and was later put to death.

Overbreeding has exacerbated the problem. "There's a lack of durability right now," says Ric Waldman, the former head of operations for Windfields Farm in Canada, which has bred and raced Native Dancer's descendants. "How much can we keep breeding into these same bloodlines? We're dealing with the law of diminishing returns."

Another very interesting point:
Times in Triple Crown events are no faster than they were 30 years ago, despite advances in training and veterinary medicine.
This story is a reminder, as we move into the era of genetic engineering of plants, animals and, potentially, humans, that unintended consequences and unexpected pitfalls are par for the course of any advanced technology.

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