Scientists have identified the mutation responsible for Foal Immunodeficiency Syndrome (FIS), a fatal condition commonly known as Fell Pony Syndrome.

Scientists have identified the mutation responsible for Foal Immunodeficiency Syndrome (FIS), a fatal condition more commonly known as Fell Pony Syndrome.

Geneticists working at the Animal Health Trust (AHT) and The University of Liverpool expect a DNA test to identify carriers of the mutation to be available at the AHT from February 2010.

Fell Pony SyndromeFIS affects not only Fell ponies but also Dales ponies. It causes foals to become anaemic and fall prey to opportunistic infections. Sadly, any foal born with the syndrome will not survive.

The team, led by the AHT’s June Swinburne and Laura Fox-Clipsham in collaboration with Stuart Carter of the University of Liverpool, believe the discovery will prevent unnecessary suffering by preventing the birth of foals affected with this condition.

Dr Swinburne said: “After ten years of research, this is an exciting and important discovery for breeders of Fell and Dales Ponies across the world. By identifying the mutation and developing a DNA test, breeders will be able to make informed decisions about which ponies to breed. This should prevent unnecessary suffering and, in time, eradicate this awful condition.”

Professor Carter said: “The University of Liverpool’s investment in the latest genomic technologies has made this breakthrough possible. On a personal level, it is so gratifying that after years of working with distraught breeders and owners, that we can now see our way to a future in which no more sick foals are produced. We can also ensure that this dreadful problem does not spread to other horse breeds.”

The research has only been possible thanks to funding from The Horse Trust and the support of the Fell Pony Society and the Dales Pony Society who have supplied DNA samples.

The Horse Trust’s chief executive, Brigadier Paul Jepson, said: “We’re thrilled to have been able to support this exciting project. It was evident from the start that this project would bring significant benefits for equine health and welfare, ultimately leading to the prevention and elimination of a fatal disease.”

Laura Fox-Clipsham, a PhD student whose work has led to the breakthrough and development of the proposed test, added: “We would urge any breeders of Fell or Dales Ponies to utilise the test once it is available. All they will need to do is send the AHT a sample of hair from the ponies for analysis. The information they will gain in return will arm them with the facts to avoid breeding foals with this devastating illness.”

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