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Operating within the intensely competitive global thoroughbred industry, Equinome has stolen amarch with a product that helps maximise the genetic potential of top horses. JimAughney talks to the woman behind the science, Dr Emmeline Hill


In the equine elite


When I arrive at UCD Belfield to interview Dr Emmeline Hill, she is having her photograph taken for this article about her company Equinome. Photographer Angela wonders about using props and I ask Hill if we might use the award she has won. “Which one?” she asks without a trace of bravado. It’s a fair response. In 2004 Hill received Ireland’s most


prestigious award for young scientists – the Science Foundation of Ireland (SFI) President of Ireland Young Researcher Award. In 2010 she was named the Image Entrepreneur of the Year, and in January her company Equinome was shortlisted for the Irish Times/ InterTradeIreland 2011 Innovation Awards. Yet the company employs a mere six people for now, including Hill and managing director Donal Ryan. The key to Equinome’s success to date, and its ability to catch the eye of award judges, is based on the fact that its product is truly unique worldwide. Equinome operates in the intensely competitive world


of the global thoroughbred industry, which produces 100,000 expensive foals each year. For the past 300 years, thoroughbred horses have been bred to maximise their speed and stamina. Throughout those three centuries, Weatherbys General Stud Book has been the means of recording the most successful horses. The General Stud Book and the breeder’s experience and ‘eye’ have been the only tools used for selecting which horses to breed.


The Speed Gene Test Equinome has developed the Speed Gene Test as a fur- ther third tool for breeders, trainers, owners and blood- stock agents to assist them in maximising the genetic potential of thoroughbred horses. The test, which is car- ried out in the labs at NovaUCD, can be used to predict the optimum racing distance for an individual thorough- bred. It does this by analysing the DNA sequence of a gene related to muscle mass development. Equinome was established in 2009 as a result of ground-


breaking research led by Hill in UCD’s School of Agriculture, Food Science and Veterinary Medicine, in partnership with Irish racehorse trainer Jim Bolger. In 2007 the genetic blueprint for the horse was unravelled for the first time – a whopping 2.7 billion units of information. The findings by the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard in theUS revolutionised equine research.Hill was involved in that groundbreaking research programme.


Speed and stamina Within two years Hill had identified the codes in the gene (myostatin) in a horse’s DNA that result in desirable ath- letic traits in the thoroughbred: speed and stamina. “Our test can be used by trainers to optimise the racing


opportunities of horses in a yard and it can be used in the breeding industry to select young stock. Our tests will tell you what each horse is likely to be good at,” she explains.


30 Irish Director Spring 2011


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