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The genetics of the white horse unraveled
Date:7/20/2008

The white horse is an icon for dignity which has had a huge impact on human culture across the world. An international team led by researchers at Uppsala University has now identified the mutation causing this spectacular trait and show that white horses carry an identical mutation that can be traced back to a common ancestor that lived thousands of years ago. The study is interesting for medical research since this mutation also enhance the risk for melanoma. The paper is published on July 20 on the website of Nature Genetics.

The great majority of white horses carry the dominant mutation Greying with age. A Grey horse is born coloured (black, brown or chestnut) but the greying process starts already during its first year and they are normally completely white by six to eight years of age but the skin remains pigmented. Thus, the process resembles greying in humans but the process is ultrafast in these horses. The research presented now demonstrates that all Grey horses carry exactly the same mutation which must have been inherited from a common ancestor that lived thousands of years ago.

- It is a fascinating thought that once upon a time a horse was born that turned grey and subsequently white and the people that observed it were so fascinated by its spectacular appearance that they used the horse for breeding so that the mutation could be transmitted from generation to generation, says Leif Andersson who led the study. Today about one horse in ten carries the mutation for Greying with age.

It is obvious that humans across the world have greatly valued these white horses as documented by the rich collection of stories and paintings featuring white horses. In the paper the white horse as an icon for dignity is illustrated by reproducing a painting from the late 17th century of the Swedish king Karl XI on his white horse Brilliant.

The Grey horse is also very interesting from a medical point of view since the mutation
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Contact: Leif Andersson
leif.andersson@imbim.uu.se
46-070-514-490
Uppsala University
Source:Eurekalert

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