Rebecca Quilliam is senior reporter at the NZME. News Service office in Wellington.

Phar Lap's DNA mapped, but don't expect a clone

Phar Lap. File photo / NZ Herald
Phar Lap. File photo / NZ Herald

Champion racehorse Phar Lap is about to have his DNA sequenced - but scientists say that doesn't mean punters will be able to make a bet on a cloned version.

Museum of New Zealand Te Papa houses the famous thoroughbred's skeleton, and staff there have sent a sliver of one of his incisors to the University of Sydney so his genetic history can be unravelled.

Te Papa Curator of Sciences Leon Perrie said the piece of tooth was 5mm long and weighed just 60 micrograms.

It was decided to send part of a tooth because DNA tended to be better preserved in teeth, he said.

"We've taken 5mm off the base of the tooth and then the tooth has been reinserted and you can't tell - you can't see that there's a bit missing.''

The tooth would be dissolved in the processing of mapping the DNA, Dr Perrie said.

Scientists would find low quality, small pieces of broken DNA, so there was not much of a chance for cloning, he said.

"This study will give some insight into why he was so dominant (on the racetrack).''

The DNA extraction will be performed at the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA (ACAD) at the University of Adelaide, before being analysed at the University of Sydney.

Dr Natasha Hamilton, the team leader from Sydney University's Faculty of Veterinary Science said they were mapping the DNA out of ``scientific curiosity''.

"The DNA sequence will tell us if Phar Lap's genetic make-up looks like star racehorses of today, including whether he [was] ... genetically better suited to running long distances.''

Dr Hamilton understood Phar Lap was the first southern hemisphere racehorse to have its whole genome sequenced, whereas the practice was popular in Europe.

The information would be used in current Faculty of Veterinary Science research such as international studies to understand the basis of genetic diversity in different breeds of horses, the structure of the thoroughbred breed and the genetics underlying the physiology of exercise across all horse species.


Where is Phar Lap?

* heart: Canberra;

* hide: Melbourne;

* skeleton: Wellington; and

* small part of an incisor tooth: University of Adelaide and then the University of Sydney.


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