Taking the reins of equine genetics
Genetics is not often the first concept that comes to mind when thinking about horses, but for University of Florida Genetics Institute member Samantha Brooks, Ph.D., it is this unique combination that drives her research everyday.
The Brooks Equine Genetics lab focuses on understanding the genetic basis for diseases, disorders and physiological variations in horses, providing owners and breeders with tools for improved horse health and management.
Brooks was recently awarded funding through the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences for a collaborative project that is the first to use genomic technology to examine stallions with poor-quality frozen semen.
“We hope to map the genes contributing to this condition, leading towards a better understanding of the underlying mechanisms,” said Brooks. “Knowledge of the genes at play might allow us to design targeted protocols to improve viability in stallions prone to low-quality frozen semen.”
As horses are large and expensive to transport, frozen semen enables a stallion to sire foals around the world, Brooks said. Not all stallion semen is created equal – some horse samples have been found to be more tolerant to cryopreservation (freezing) than others, which can significantly limit the marketability of a valuable stallion.
Teaming up with UF researchers from multiple departments, including her own Department of Animal Sciences, opens doors to a wide range of horse-related genetics research: from the plants they eat and soil they run on, to the flies and parasites they carry, and to time spent in the UF Veterinary Hospital.
According to Brooks, innovations in next-generation DNA sequencing and the decreased costs of genomics research offer an excellent opportunity to study animals outside the traditional lab model, such as horses and other related species.
Born in Lexington, Ky., Brooks has always been “addicted to horses”, which later transformed into an academic interest in the rapidly evolving field of equine genetics. While working on her doctoral dissertation at the University of Kentucky, Brooks found a large chromosome rearrangement that results in an attractive and popular horse-spotting pattern called Tobiano, a discovery she said is a reminder that researchers must sometimes expect the unexpected.
The Brooks lab is a team made up of visiting scholars, postdoctoral associates, graduate students, undergraduate researchers and staff. As an undergraduate student herself, Brooks participated in research that inspired her openness to bringing diverse members into her own lab.
“It was a transformative experience and I am supportive of getting our UF students into the lab, and the field, at every opportunity,” Brooks said. “The UFGI itself is a really forward thinking initiative and I’m looking forward to bringing on Genetics & Genomics graduate students to benefit from the collaborative environment.”
To learn more about Samantha Brooks and the Brooks Equine Genetics lab current research projects, visit www.neighdna.com.