The Thoroughbred horse breed was developed primarily for racing, and has a significant contribution to the qualitative improvement of many other horse breeds. Despite the importance of Thoroughbred racehorses in historical, cultural, and economical viewpoints, there was no temporal and spatial dynamics of them using the mitogenome sequences. To explore this topic, the complete mitochondrial genome sequences of 14 Thoroughbreds and two Przewalski’s horses were determined. These sequences were analyzed together along with 151 previously published horse mitochondrial genomes from a range of breeds across the globe using a Bayesian coalescent approach as well as Bayesian inference and maximum likelihood methods. The racing horses were revealed to have multiple maternal origins and to be closely related to horses from one Asian, two Middle Eastern, and five European breeds. Thoroughbred horse breed was not directly related to the Przewalski’s horse which has been regarded as the closest taxon to the all domestic horses and the only true wild horse species left in the world. Our phylogenomic analyses also supported that there was no apparent correlation between geographic origin or breed and the evolution of global horses. The most recent common ancestor of the Thoroughbreds lived approximately 8,100–111,500 years ago, which was significantly younger than the most recent common ancestor of modern horses (0.7286 My). Bayesian skyline plot revealed that the population expansion of modern horses, including Thoroughbreds, occurred approximately 5,500–11,000 years ago, which coincide with the start of domestication. This is the first phylogenomic study on the Thoroughbred racehorse in association with its spatio-temporal dynamics. The database and genetic history information of Thoroughbred mitogenomes obtained from the present study provide useful information for future horse improvement projects, as well as for the study of horse genomics, conservation, and in association with its geographical distribution.
We carried out a Bayesian coalescent approach using extended mitochondrial genome sequences from 167 horses in order to further assess the timescale of horse domestication. Here, we first calculated the time of the most recent common ancestor of Thoroughbred horses. Our analysis revealed the age of the most recent common ancestor of the racing horse to be around 8,100–111,500 years old. This estimate is much younger than that of the most recent common ancestor of the global horses, which has been estimated at 0.7286 Mys old.
On the domestication time of modern horses, there have been several publications derived from both archaeological [49–51] and molecular [11–12, 23, 48] evidences. D’Andrade  reported that the origin of domestic horses was around 4,000 years ago. Ludwig et al.  stated the domestication time to be about 5,000 years ago, while Anthony  noted that horse rearing by humans may have occurred approximately 6,000 years ago. Subsequently, on the basis of mitochondrial genome sequences, Lippold et al.  and Achilli et al.  postulated domestication time to be about 6,000–8,000 and 6,000–7,000 years ago, respectively. Warmuth  dated domestication time to 5,500 years ago based on autosomal genotype data, while Orlando et al.  claimed that Przewalski’s and domestic horse populations diverged 38,000–72,000 years ago based on analysis of genome sequences. In contrast to the previous hypothesized date of horse domestication, the results of our Bayesian skyline plot (BSP) analysis depict a rapid expansion of the horse population approximately 5,500–11,000 years ago, which coincides with the start of domestication.
It seems that we will not have an update on horse aDNA from the ISBA 8, so we will have to make do with this for the moment.
Animal domestication gives rise to gradual changes at the genomic level through selection in populations. Selective sweeps have been traced in the genomes of many animal species, including humans, cattle, and dogs. However, little is known regarding positional candidate genes and genomic regions that exhibit signatures of selection in domestic horses. In addition, an understanding of the genetic processes underlying horse domestication, especially the origin of Chinese native populations, is still lacking. In our study, we generated whole genome sequences from 4 Chinese native horses and combined them with 48 publicly available full genome sequences, from which 15 341 213 high-quality unique single-nucleotide polymorphism variants were identified. Kazakh and Lichuan horses are 2 typical Asian native breeds that were formed in Kazakh or Northwest China and South China, respectively. We detected 1390 loss-of-function (LoF) variants in protein-coding genes, and gene ontology (GO) enrichment analysis revealed that some LoF-affected genes were overrepresented in GO terms related to the immune response. Bayesian clustering, distance analysis, and principal component analysis demonstrated that the population structure of these breeds largely reflected weak geographic patterns. Kazakh and Lichuan horses were assigned to the same lineage with other Asian native breeds, in agreement with previous studies on the genetic origin of Chinese domestic horses. We applied the composite likelihood ratio method to scan for genomic regions showing signals of recent selection in the horse genome. A total of 1052 genomic windows of 10 kB, corresponding to 933 distinct core regions, significantly exceeded neutral simulations. The GO enrichment analysis revealed that the genes under selective sweeps were overrepresented with GO terms, including “negative regulation of canonical Wnt signaling pathway,” “muscle contraction,” and “axon guidance.” Frequent exercise training in domestic horses may have resulted in changes in the expression of genes related to metabolism, muscle structure, and the nervous system.
Admixture proportions were assessed without user-defined population information to infer the presence of distinct populations among the samples (Figure 2). At K = 3 or K = 4, Franches-Montagnes and Arabian forms one unique cluster; at K = 5, Jeju pony forms one unique cluster. For other breeds, comparatively strong population structure exists among breeds, and they can be assigned to 2 (or 3) alternate clusters from K = 3 to K = 5 including group A (Duelmener, Fjord, Icelandic, Kazakh, Lichuan, and Mongolian) and group B (Hanoverian, Morgan, Quarter, Sorraia, and Standardbred). For group A, geographically this was unexpected, where Nordic breeds (Norwegian Fjord, Icelandic, and Duelmener) clustered with Asian breeds including the Mongolian.Previous results of mitochondrial DNA have revealed links between the Mongolian horse and breeds in Iceland, Scandinavia, Central Europe, and the British Isles. The Mongol horses are believed to have been originally imported from Russia subsequently became the basis for the Norwegian Fjord horse.31 At K = 6, Sorraia forms one unique cluster. The Sorraia horse has no long history as a domestic breed but is considered to be of a nearly ancestral type in the southern part of the Iberian Peninsula.32 However, our result did not support Sorraia as an independent ancestral type based on result from K = 2 to K = 5, and the unique cluster in K = 6 may be explained by the small population size and recently inbreeding programs. Genetic admixture of Morgan reveals that these breeds are currently or traditionally continually crossed with other breeds from K = 2 to K = 8. The Morgan horse has been a largely closed breed for 200 years or more but there has been some unreported crossbreeding in recent times.33
Bayesian clustering and PCA demonstrated the relationships among the horse breeds with weak geographic patterns. The tight grouping within most native breeds and looser grouping of individuals in admixed breeds have been reported previously in modern horses using data from a 54K SNP chip.33,34 Cluster analysis reveals that Arabian or Franches-Montagnes forms one unique cluster with relatively low K value, which is consistent with former study using 50K SNP chip 33,34 Interestingly, Standardbred forms a unique cluster with relatively high K value in this study, different from previous study.33 To date, no footprints are available to describe how the earliest domestic horses spread into China in ancient times. Our study found that Kazakh and Lichuan were assigned to the same lineage as other native Asian breeds, in agreement with previous studies on the origin of Chinese domestic horses.4,5,35,36 The strong genetic relationship between Asian native breeds and European native breeds have made it more difficult to understand the population history of the horse across Eurasia. Low levels of population differentiation observed between breeds might be explained by historical admixture. Unlike the domestic pig in China,8we suggest that in China, Northern/Southern distinct groups could not be used to genetically distinct native Chinese horse breeds. We consider that during domestication process of horse, gene flow continued among Chinese-domesticated horses.
There are large populations of indigenous horse (Equus caballus) in China and some other parts of East Asia. However, their matrilineal genetic diversity and origin remained poorly understood. Using a combination of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) and hypervariable region (HVR-1) sequences, we aim to investigate the origin of matrilineal inheritance in these domestic horses.
To investigate patterns of matrilineal inheritance in domestic horses, we conducted a phylogenetic study using 31 de novo mtDNA genomes together with 317 others from the GenBank. In terms of the updated phylogeny, a total of 5,180 horse mitochondrial HVR-1 sequences were analyzed.
Eighteen haplogroups (Aw-Rw) were uncovered from the analysis of the whole mitochondrial genomes. Most of which have a divergence time before the earliest domestication of wild horses (about 5,800 years ago) and during the Upper Paleolithic (35–10 KYA). The distribution of some haplogroups shows geographic patterns. The Lw haplogroup contained a significantly higher proportion of European horses than the horses from other regions, while haplogroups Jw, Rw, and some maternal lineages of Cw, have a higher frequency in the horses from East Asia. The 5,180 sequences of horse mitochondrial HVR-1 form nine major haplogroups (A-I). We revealed a corresponding relationship between the haplotypes of HVR-1 and those of whole mitochondrial DNA sequences. The data of the HVR-1 sequences also suggests that Jw, Rw, and some haplotypes of Cw may have originated in East Asia while Lw probably formed in Europe.
Our study supports the hypothesis of the multiple origins of the maternal lineage of domestic horses and some maternal lineages of domestic horses may have originated from East Asia.
Geographic distributions of horse mtDNA haplogroups
The analysis of geographic distribution of the mitochondrial genome haplogroups showed that horse populations in Europe or East Asia included all haplogroups defined from the mtDNA genome sequences. The lineage Fw comprised entirely of Przewalskii horses. The two haplogroups Iw and Lw displayed frequency peaks in Europe (14.08% and 37.32%, respectively) and a decline to the east (9.33% and 8.00% in the West Asia, and 6.45% and 12.90% in East Asia, respectively), especially for Lw, which contained the largest number of European horses (Table 2). However, an opposite distribution pattern was observed for haplogroups Aw, Hw, Jw, and Rw, which were harbored by more horses from East Asia than those from other regions. The proportions of horses from East Asia for the four haplogroups were 38%, 88%, 62%, and 54%, respectively.