#EqHist2018: Brian Tyrrell on Breeding Thoroughbreds in the Post-Genomic Era

All month long we will be featuring speaker’s abstracts for the upcoming Equine History Conference: Why Equine History Matters.

“Future Perfect: The Thoroughbred in the Post-Genomic Era”
Brian Tyrrell, University of California, Santa Barbara

With $15 million of funding from the National Institutes of Health, researchers at the Broad Institute and contributors to the Horse Genome Project sequenced the genome of Twilight, a thoroughbred mare owned by Cornell University. The Horse Genome Project promised insights into curing some of the 90 genetic illnesses horses share with humans, but almost immediately after the sequencing of the genome, commercial firms sold the science as predictive. Thoroughbred breeders, long obsessed with genealogy, began reading DNA forward instead of backward. Building off Elizabeth Finkel’s elaboration of biologist Eugene V. Koonin’s “postmodern synthesis,” I argue in this paper that genomics became a universal language for a globalized breeding industry and that genomic breeding promised certainty for a fundamental unstable enterprise. In the 1980s, breeders, particularly those from Ireland and the United Arab Emirates, paid astronomical sums for Kentucky bloodstock. Wall Street bankers created syndicates and hedge funds for investing in thoroughbreds, and the market expanded to create the Bluegrass Bubble. Genomic testing emerged as a solution to a crisis of overproduction. The story of the molecular breeding suggests a relationship between risk and a resurgence of genetic determinism. Genomics promised insulation from the vicissitudes of biology and economy. While good horses still bred poor runners and the market behaved irrationally, the discourse of genomics gave the illusion of security.

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