#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.


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

  1. I wonder if anyone is familiar with the continuity of thoroughbred racing outside the USA. At the turn of the century racing was abolished for at least a period of time in every state save KY, and it almost was terminated there too. Yet in other places, the issue of gambling (and horse abuse) seemed to have limited impact. In England, for instance, racing was not halted in either world war; and the great races have gone on uninterrupted for over two hundred years. I am finishing a book on racing in Chicago where the sport was shuttered from 1905 until 1924. Any assistance is appreciated.
    Steve Riess,
    Bernard Brommel Research Professor, Emeritus
    Dept. of History
    Northeastern Illinois University


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