Gene Doping in the Equine Athlete: The New Normal in the “Art of Cheating”?
An Animal Rights Article from

FROM Jane Allin, Fund for Horses
April 2021

As in the past, those that exploit illicit means to enhance the performance of horses, continue to seek novel methods that are both effective and difficult to detect. Gene doping is a perfect candidate.

tied up racehorse

The success of any racehorse is determined by genetics, training and nutrition, which ultimately impact physical traits such as speed, muscular strength and endurance. While training and nutrition no doubt contribute significantly to a racehorse’s performance, inheritance plays an equally if not greater part in influencing performance. At least, that is what the racing industry has based its breeding programs and stud fees on since the birth of horse racing. And of course, doping as a means of performance enhancement, has gone hand in had with these principles in an attempt to manipulate those attributes.

With the development of sophisticated genetic technologies for the genes responsible for these traits comes the potential for novel therapies that will not only benefit treating diseases and musculoskeletal injuries but more insidiously, artificially enhance the performance of the racehorse, otherwise known as gene doping.

Gene doping in human athletics has been on the radar for almost two decades and the race to develop detection methods has been fraught with difficulty, although progress is being made on that front. The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has defined gene doping as the ”transfer of polymers of nucleic acids or nucleic acid analogues, or the use of normal or genetically modified cells that have the capacity to enhance athletic performance”, and has been listed among banned substances and methods since 2003.

The relationship between cells and genes

The body is composed of trillions of cells, the basic building blocks of all living things. Inside the the nucleus of the cells, there are thousands of genes. These are comprised of a distinct sequence of “nucleotides” that form part of a chromosome. Genes carry the necessary genetic information and instructions for making proteins and enzymes, which help build and maintain the body (e.g. muscles, bones, blood).

cells genes




Return to Stop Horseracing