RESEARCH INTO HEALTHY HORSES OF THE FUTURE
Gabriella Lindgren and her research team are working on mapping genes that regulate important properties of the horse genome, i.e. concerning diseases and performance traits – wide-ranging work involving everything Gabriella is passionate about, namely genetics, horses and collaborating with knowledgeable and dedicated research colleagues.
It was slightly odd phenomena and questions that set off Gabriella's interest in biology when she was still a child: "Why can some people roll the tongue and not others?" and "How come someone can be born with six fingers?" Biology and genetics are two favourite areas that people close to her have inspired her to discover.
"My mother has always been interested in genealogy, and my father has worked in the field of biotechnology. My secondary-school biology teacher was also very inspiring,” says Gabriella.
SLU was the obvious choice
Gabriella's interest in the biology of both animals and plants made SLU the obvious choice when it came to choosing what to study when she left school. In 1992 she started on the Agronomics programme, specialising in biotechnology and plant genetics. One day, however, Gabriella hit on a course in genome analysis focusing on domestic animals. This course would come to mean a lot to her.
"There were several exciting lectures on analysis of the genetic material of domestic animals. It was so fascinating that it made me switch the focus of my studies. I later got the chance to work on a doctoral thesis on developing a map of the horse genome,” says Gabriella.
Four years after her first degree Gabriella already had a recent doctoral thesis under her belt, and with the help of the Wallenberg Foundation came the opportunity to do a post-doc at Stanford University in the USA. The area she chose there was ‘gene regulation in humans’, and this was at an institution where the well-known geneticist scientist David Cox – a pioneer in use of SNPs and haplotypes to study genetic diseases in humans – had worked. When David started his own company, Perlegen Sciences, Gabriella went with him.
"The time in the US and at Stanford was extremely valuable. I learnt a lot, but the most important thing was probably me becoming more independent as a researcher," says Gabriella.
After two years in the US she returned to Uppsala University, Sweden. After three years at IMBIM (Department of Medical Biochemistry and Microbiology) Gabriella went back to SLU, this time as a research assistant (equivalent to assistant professor) in molecular genetics with a special focus on horses. SLU was also attractive to her by virtue of being a university that promotes animal welfare.
Ongoing research – basis for future breeding
The aim of Gabriella and her team’s work on equine genetics is identification of the genes behind certain diseases and other important traits – information that can then be used in breeding. The equine disease summer eczema, which can be very troublesome to horses, is one of the diseases Gabriella and her team researched into. Summer eczema depends on both heredity and the environment, thus on the occurrence of certain genes and horses’ exposure to biting midges. Thanks to insight into the genes behind the eczema, it is hoped that the disease can be carefully bred out – though this process is complex, bearing in mind the risk of things such as inbreeding.
In another project the aim right now is to scan 1,000 horses, so as to calculate and carry out matching between hundreds of thousands of genetical markers and qualities for durability and performance.
"In collaboration with Prof. Eric Strand at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences (NMBU) we are endeavouring to find durability and performance genes, i.e. the genes that contribute to speed and the ‘will to win’ in horses. As everyone knows, some of them may have an innate desire to move, as well as a striving to come first in races. Our long-term vision is to succeed in genetically mapping this trait,” says Gabriella..
SLU Holding has helped with patent issues
Gabriella's team contacted SLU Holding early on during their research journey. SLU Holding has so far helped with business contacts in industry & commerce, patent issues and market research.
SLU Holding has been an important channel for us in terms of juggling research concepts and our ideas, as well as reconciliation with the market,” says Gabriella.
From research to market
There is much to consider when you want to take your research to the market in the form of an innovation. Well-functioning research is key.
"Right now the most important thing for me is building up the research group, i.e. getting research funding and recruiting the right expertise as well as a range of different people. I think the point of commercialising parts of your research is the possibility of specifically sorting out the funding and thus achieving the prerequisites for continuing with other research,” says Gabriella.
Gabriella believes it is important for research to come to the fore and be a benefit to society. A conflict between ‘good research’ and research with a practical application is something Gabriella doesn’t see.
"I’m employed at SLU primarily as a researcher and teacher, and we always start all projects with a specific research question, e.g. Why does hair grow? But then, of course, we also consider the problems that the answer to this question might trigger. It’s a major and important advantage if good research has a practical societal application,” Gabriella concludes.