The Fenway Foundation for Friesian Horses, at the request of the KFPS, is about to embark on a research program that could have a positive impact on the lives of Friesian horses and their owners around the world. Fenway is incredibly fortunate to be partnering with researchers at the famed Gluck Equine Research Center at the University of Kentucky and Wageningen University in The Netherlands. But they aren’t just common researchers; they might be the most prestigious genetic research team in North America, if not the world. Kathryn Graves, Ph.D., Ernest Bailey, Ph.D. and Theodore S Kalbfleisch, Ph.D. from the Gluck Equine Research Center at the University of Kentucky and Dr. B. J. Ducro at Wageningen University make up the Gluck/Wageningen/Fenway Friesian Genetic Research Initiative. Fenway and every Friesian owner in the world is blessed to have this team to study our beloved horses.
So, what are we researching? The genetic research team is going to work towards unlocking the genetic code that causes the megaesophagus and aortic rupture genetic flaw in our Friesian horses. Our goal is the development of a genetic test that will assist in breeding decisions and, hopefully, over time, eliminate this debilitating and sometimes fatal genetic flaw in our horses, both young and old. The Friesian community is acquainted with Fenway, but we do want to take this opportunity to introduce the genetic research team that will be working towards the ultimate goal of solving the genetic issues that impact the Friesian breed.
Kathryn Graves, PhD
After completing her doctorate degree at Cornell University, Kathryn Graves joined the University of Kentucky in 1986 to expand the new Horse Blood Typing Lab established by Dr. Ernest Bailey. In 2001 DNA testing began to replace blood typing for parentage verification, and the lab became the Animal Genetic Testing and Research Lab. In 2005 Dr. Graves became the director of the program, and in 2008 the lab was moved to the Gluck Equine Research Center, where it was renamed the Genetic Testing Lab at Gluck. Genetic discoveries at Gluck are incorporated into tests offered by the laboratory. The lab also has its own research program, and Dr. Graves discovered the mutation responsible for JEB (Junctional Epidermolysis Bullosa) in the American Saddlebred Horse. She bred, trained, and showed American Quarter Horses for 30 years and now enjoys breeding, training, and showing Boston Terriers.
Ernest Bailey, PhD
Ernest Bailey earned his Ph.D. in genetics at the University of California, Davis, then joined the faculty at the Gluck Equine Research Center at the University of Kentucky. He and his students study the genetics and genomics of horses, including the development of the gene map and genome sequence, as well as the discovery of genes responsible for coat color traits and diseases in horses. He is the coordinator of the USDA-NRSP8 program for the horse genome, past president of the International Society for Animal Genetics, and has served on the editorial boards of several journals for veterinary science and genetics. During his career, he has published over 160 scientific articles and a book entitled “Horse Genetics” (CABI publisher).
Theodore (Ted) Kalbfleisch, PhD
Theodore (Ted) Kalbfleisch, Ph.D., joined the University of Kentucky Gluck Equine Research Center in 2019. His work focuses on a secondary analysis of equid genomes and transcriptomes. Previously an associate professor at the University of Louisville School of Medicine, Kalbfleisch earned his doctorate in physical chemistry from Boston University and his bachelor’s degree in chemistry from UofL. He is originally from Louisville. Dr. Kalbfleisch brings an international reputation in equine bioinformatics and a wealth of technical expertise to this project. In 2018 he was the first author of the paper describing the updated reference genome (EquCab3.0) for the horse.
Dr. B. J. (Bart) Ducro, Wageningen University, The Netherlands
Additionally, the KFPS will work with researchers in Europe to supply our team with appropriate genetic material from affected candidates in that substantially larger Friesian population. Very fortunately, Dr. Bart Ducro from Wageningen University will be joining the team from the Netherlands. Dr. Ducro is an assistant professor at the Animal Breeding and Genomics Group of Wageningen University. He has a background in quantitative genetics and, within his group, is involved in research and teaching horse breeding and genetics. His research includes breeding values for sport and health traits, genetic diversity (inbreeding) within and across horse breeds as well as some genomics studies (GWAS, Genomic Selection). Together with Ids Hellinga, Executive Director of the KFPS, they have done quite a few projects on Friesian Horses, including the development of DNA tests for dwarfism and hydrocephalus. He has previously been involved in research on aorta rupture and megaoesophagus as well.
This research program will require DNA samples from very specific affected and control candidates. We will publish those requirements in the very near future and look forward to cooperation by the Friesian community in finding those candidates and submitting appropriate samples. Fortunately, and encouraging is that many blood samples frozen for both horses with aortic rupture and megaesophagus have been collected and are now stored in The Netherlands. The advantage? This initiative may not have to wait for new samples to be collected. But as the program moves forward, more specific samples may be requested from the Friesian community.
Fenway, the genetic research team at Gluck, Wageningen, the KFPS hope the entire Friesian community is excited at the prospect of solving these genetic issues and ensuring an enduring Friesian breed for our children, grandchildren, and beyond. More to come!!!