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Easy Rider Horse Gene

August 16, 2016

DNA analysis reveals the origin of horses with an odd gait and a smooth ride.

Transcript

This photograph shows an ambling Iceland pony during World Championship. Monika Reissmann

An ambling Iceland pony. (Monika Reissmann)

BOB HIRSHON (host):

Easy rider horses. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

You may know that horses can trot, canter and gallop, but less familiar is the “amble”: a kind of quick-stepping that looks odd, but provides a very smooth ride. Ambling ability comes from a gene mutation that arose long ago in a single horse, and is now found in most domestic horses. Biologist Arne Ludwig at the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research studied the DNA of 90 ancient horses and in the journal Current Biology, traces the ambling gene back to Medieval England and then Scandinavia.

ARNE LUDWIG (Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research):

The Vikings took these horses from England, selected for this specific movement in horses, and then ambling horses were distributed very fast all over the world.

HIRSHON:

Ludwig wants to understand how humans have so profoundly shaped the horse genome, and the impact of these animals on society. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.

Story by Bob Hirshon