Technological advancements in gene-sequencing technology and semen collection could mean winged horses are not beyond the realms of possibility, experts agree.
Scientists have isolated the “winged” gene and its position on avian chromosomes, and determined that it is only slightly different to that of four-legged mammals.
Owing to a similarity between equine and avian DNA, and chromosome structure and ordering, it is thought it would be relatively simple – in genetic engineering terms – to combine the two. This would mean horses could be born with four legs and wings.
Tullis Matson, of Stallion AI Services, visited Africa this year to collect semen from endangered mammals and birds, although the latter is more difficult.
“We’ve been doing lots of work collecting from rare breeds in the UK, so it was a small step to become involved in endangered African animals,” Tullis told H&H.
“I was fascinated to find out it is possible, although tricky, to collect ostrich semen, and we wanted to compared the DNA with that of horses.
“We’re hugely excited about the possibilities.”
Stallion AI Services’ state-of-the-art technology means it can already offer pioneering techniques such as being able to choose the sex of a foal, but Tullis admits this latest prospect is the most exciting yet.
“All being well, we should be able to have the first winged foals on the ground in 2021,” he said, adding that while these first foals may not be capable of flight, this is definitely possible in future.
Tullis has been working with the Advanced Polytechnical Runway Initiative Laboratory on the scheme.
The lab’s avian genetics specialist Peggy Sooce told H&H she had never thought she would see such advancement.
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“I thought Tullis was joking when he first got in touch, but this could be the biggest thing we’ve ever worked on,” she said.
H&H has approached the International Equestrian Federation for comment on what winged horses could mean for jumping and cross-country rules.
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