Horses may have originated in Arabia and central Asia, DNA analysis shows
Nearly all modern horses are descended from stallions brought to Europe from Arabia and central Asia in the last 700 years, a genetic analysis has shown.
Scientists looked at the male Y chromosomes, passed from fathers to sons, of 52 horses representing 21 breeds.
Males originating from a common paternal ancestor share the same collections of Y chromosome mutations, revealing clues about their family tree.
The study showed the paternal lineages of modern horses split far more recently than the domestication of the species, which dates back more than 5,000 years.
All the breeds included in the study, barring a few, clustered into a 700-year-old “haplogroup” brought to Europe by the import of oriental stallions.
Within this equine family there were two major sub-groups, Arab horses from the Arabian Peninsula, and Turkoman horses from the steppes of central Asia.
Lead researcher Dr Barbara Wallner, from the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna, Austria, said: “Apart from stallion lines in northern European breeds, all stallion lines detected in other modern breeds derive from more recently introduced Oriental ancestors.
“Our data therefore illuminate the enormous impact modern horse breeding strategies, characterised by strong selection of males and the import of Oriental stallions, during the past few hundred years had on Y chromosome diversity.”
Linking the Y chromosome lineages to genealogical records unravelled the origins of English thoroughbreds, tracing them to the Turkoman founder stallions.
The research is published in the journal Current Biology.