Dr. Keith J. Bretteridge, who has spent much of his career at Ontario Veterinary College studying horse pregnancies, has been able to make exciting discoveries using new technologies, such as RNA (messenger genetics) and ultrasound.
He now knows that the mare communicates with her embryo and is looking into whether the embryo communicates with the mare.
Approximately 17 per cent of equine pregnancies fail and 70 per cent of those losses will occur in the first six weeks of pregnancy, Betteridge said in a recent video prepared at the college’s Equine Guelph research centre.
“Pregnancy was always looked at as though the embryo was just a passenger in the uterus,” he said.
“It has gradually emerged since the 1960’s that the embryo is a very active participant in pregnancy. If the embryo is not communicating with the mare, the pregnancy won’t develop.
“Understanding the two sides of the conversation between the embryo and the mare is absolutely vital to understanding how pregnancy will develop normally and how, when an embryo is lost, the pregnancy will fail,” Betteridge said.
RNA sequencing has provided new methods of finding out which genes are active in the lining of the uterus at a particular time.
The ‘dialogue’ from the mare’s side has been examined and future studies will hopefully reveal the ‘conversation’ from the embryonic side, he said.
With continued research, we are gradually building up information that will help the horse breeder reduce the number of pregnancies that are lost.