Science fact not fiction: Detecting gene edited racehorses

Racing Australia Limited

  • Project code: PRJ-011777

  • Project stage: Closed

  • Project start date: Monday, July 29, 2019

  • Project completion date: Wednesday, August 31, 2022

  • National Priority: HOR-Thoroughbred horse welfare, workforce safety and environmental sustainability


When Chinese researcher He Jiankui revealed last year that he had created the world’s first gene edited babies, he was unlikely to consider the impact of his announcement on regulators from the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities (IFHA). However, horse racing officials have been closely monitoring developments in gene editing and the potential of this therapy to threaten the definition of the Thoroughbred.
Gene doping is the use of gene transfer therapy to artificially enhance physical performance. Last year, our group announced that we had developed a new test to detect gene doping in horses (Wilkin 2018 ICRAV Proc; Gene editing is the ‘next generation’ method of gene therapy. As the name suggests, gene editing induces only subtle changes in the DNA sequence of its target. Gene editing also uses enzymes that degrade quickly and are thus undetectable.
Currently, the only way to determine whether a Thoroughbred has been gene-edited is to examine its DNA sequence and compare it either to a previously collected sample, or to its parents. Whilst this is possible with whole genome sequencing (WGS), it is expensive and creates large amounts of data that require specialist training to analyse. In this project, we will develop a kit to isolate and sequence only the likely targets of gene editing in horse DNA. We will also create the pipeline for the analysis of the data. This test will be used to detect whether the heritable genome of a Thoroughbred has been artificially altered.


Thoroughbred Horses

Research Organisation

Racing Australia Limited

Objective Summary

The outcome of this project is the development of a kit to detect gene editing in horses. The objectives of this project are as follows:
1. Identify the genes and pathways most likely to be targeted by a person wanting to gene dope a horse using
gene editing.
2. Develop a custom kit to target the identified coding DNA sequences from a whole genome DNA sample.
3. Test the prototype kit to optimise the methods of its use.
4. Develop the bioinformatics pipeline to analyse the samples.
5. Test the developed kit on parent–parent-offspring trio groups to determine the inter-generational mutation rate.