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Stepping Forward Dr. samantha brooks

Dr. Samantha Brooks is the principal investigator of the Brooks Equine Genetics lab at the UF Cancer and Genetics Research Center. Brooks and her team study the genetics of horses, and how they connect to traits such as movement, fear reaction, and health conditions.

As a child, I asked too many questions. I was one of those kids who always wanted to know...why?

A lifelong horse woman from central Kentucky, Dr. Samantha Brooks has combined her love for horses and large animals with her unquenchable curiosity for the natural world and desire to find answers. She graduated with a B.S. in Agricultural Biotechnology from the University of Kentucky in 2001, and remained there to complete her Ph.D. in Veterinary Science in 2006.

From the start of her college years, Brooks thought becoming a veterinarian was the surefire path for her. However, she soon discovered that there were more fundamental questions about science that she wanted to answer, and wouldn't get to tackle as a veterinarian who applies the answers found in research.

"When I was an undergraduate, I worked in a program called Agricultural Biotechnology, where we got to combine an interest in agriculture, large animals and livestock with some of the new biotechnology techniques that were just emerging into science at the time."

"That was a unique opportunity for me to start to combine my love of horses and my interest in cutting-edge science. That got me hooked, and today, I am very glad I made that decision to begin research in college. It's my life's work now."

So how do you tie genetics into the study of horses?

In her lab, Dr. Brooks and team examine the DNA of over 30 horses housed at the UF/IFAS Horse Teaching Unit in Gainesville, FL, along with many others as they travel to competitions and shows throughout the state. They sequence the DNA samples, searching for genes which directly determine the pattern of the horses steps, also known as gait.

"Today, We value our horses for how they move. So knowing these variations in movement is incredibly useful for riders who want a smooth ride, or to determine which horse can be the most efficient for long distances. This information can also help horse owners and veterinarians spot potential injuries or chronic arthritis ahead of time."

"Any tools we can develop to help the horse community are great, but as a geneticist, what I want to learn are

what are the genes that help us move our bodies?

what are the specific biological pathways that help to control the development of neurons to alter the way we move?"

"DNA is the same whether it's in a human or a horse, it's just the sequence that differs."

Dr. Brooks aims to develop and apply her study of the horse genome as a basis for understanding how the human body moves, and how much of our movement may be determined by genetics.

Dr. Samantha Brooks and Darla

Credits:

Juan Wiswell, IFAS