British Horseracing Authority Concerned About Gene Doping

While most of us have not even heard about gene doping, it seems
the BHA are so concerned they are prepared to give one million
pounds to an international group that are monitoring the activity and
planning countermeasures should the threat become a reality. It
seems that horse racing is the most natural target because of the
need for strength and speed and as reports it is a
process of changing the genes.

Gene manipulation has been around for some time now; if you
remember the uproar when scientists managed to clone a sheep,
you will see where this is going. Gene doping involves changing the
genes of an animal before they are born with the express purpose
of either removing or adding certain traits. Normally you would
expect racehorse breeders to select the best stallion and mare to
create a foal with qualities from both parents. As this is natural,
there is no guarantee it will work, but over the years stronger
examples have been successfully bred. With gene manipulation,
the hit and miss elements are removed, and there is the possibility
of enhancing performance in a way that would be unnatural and

As David Sykes, the BHA director of equine health and welfare
explains “This is new technology that is unravelling all the time.
None of us here think that there has probably been a previous
incidence of it, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be looking
forward into the next five or 10 years and at least being able to
identify if it is going to occur. For example, you could send in
material which would alter the EPO [erythropoietin] receptor site, to
allow an animal to produce increased levels of EPO naturally [and
increase the blood’s oxygen-carrying capacity]. That could be
expanded to anything else. For example, you could target muscle
mass and increasing it, or at some point talk about circulatory
systems, increasing blood supply or even cardiac muscle size by
genetically altering the DNA sequence.”

At the current time, the threat is perceived as low, and the BHA
does not believe it is happening, but just ten years ago it was not
even considered possible. Now we know that it can be done and
that the potential to disrupt the sport is great and therefore needs to
be contained. This is being done at an international level in order to
protect the sport all over the world.

When asked for his view Brant Dunshea who is the BHA chief
regulatory officer said “Late last year we were in discussion with our
laboratories, who said that we need to be part of an international
collaboration on gene doping to ensure that we are not globally
duplicating work. Across six or seven countries, we are all working
together to do various pieces of the jigsaw puzzle on gene doping.
There’s no specific evidence that we’re aware of in relation to there
being genetic manipulation that’s happening, but we haven’t done
the research yet to be able to develop the techniques to be able to
monitor it, so that’s what this research is all about.”