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Ancient horses may have been tamed in at least 18 different countries

Washington, Tue, 31 Jan 2012 ANI

Washington, Jan 31 (ANI): Experts continue to debate on the origins of humans' love affair with horses as a new genetic study has divulged further clues.


Through the first complete analysis of equestrian mitochondrial DNA - a kind of genetic material that is passed directly from mother to offspring - an international group of scientists was able to trace all modern horses to an ancestor that lived about 140,000 years ago, the Discovery News reported.


After horse domestication started about 10,000 years ago, the study also discovered, horses diverged into no less than 18 discrete genetic lines.


The new research could help scientists in unravelling the genetic secrets of modern horse breeds and top racehorses.


"Horse domestication had major cultural, socioeconomic, and even genetic implications for the numerous prehistoric and historic human populations that at different times adopted horse breeding," said Alessandro Achilli, a geneticist at the University of Perugia in Italy.


"Thus, our results will have a major impact in many areas of biological science, ranging from the field of animal and conservation genetics to zoology, veterinary science, paleontology, human genetics and anthropology."


After examining mitochondrial DNA from a wide range of horse breeds across Asia, Europe, the Middle East and the Americas, and then using the known mutation rate of this kind of DNA as a sort of clock, Achilli and colleagues were able to link all modern horses to a common ancestor that lived between 130,000 and 160,000 years ago.


By comparison, modern humans first evolved about 200,000 years ago.


By looking at the entire mitochondrial genome, the new study was able to place horses into at least 18 different groups that evolved independently.


One potential explanation for those findings is that many different groups of people independently discovered the significant benefits of taming wild horses thousands of years ago.


"The very fact that many wild mares have been independently domesticated in different places testifies to how significant horses have been to humankind," Achilli said.


"It means that the ability of taming these animals was badly needed by different groups of people in different regions of Eurasia, from the Asian steppes to Western Europe, since they could generate the food surplus necessary to support the growth of human populations and the capability to expand and adapt into new environments or facilitate transportation," Achilli added.


The study has been recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. (ANI)


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