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Appaloosa Project’s Dr. Rebecca Bellone Heads to UC Davis

The Appaloosa Project’s chief molecular geneticist, Dr. Rebecca Bellone, has recently relocated to the University of California-Davis.

As many of our members are aware, Dr. Bellone began investigating the genetics of leopard complex spotting as a graduate student in 1997. 

After ruling out several candidate genes as the cause and successfully completing her Ph.D., she accepted a faculty position at the University of Tampa where she taught several undergraduate courses in biology. 

During the last 12 years she has continued to lead the molecular quest to find and unravel the genetic mechanisms behind appaloosa spotting.  

In 2011 Rebecca and the other members of the Appaloosa Project team discovered the causative mutation for LP and CSNB

The team continues to investigate many other important and interesting aspects of appaloosa genetics, including the search for pattern modifiers and genetic risk factors for equine recurrent uveitis (ERU).

Dr. Bellone is currently a faculty member in the School of Veterinary Medicine in the Department of Population Health and Reproduction, and affiliated with the Veterinary Genetics Laboratory at UC-Davis where she will continue to conduct her research.

During a recent visit to her new digs, Sheila Archer was able to ask Dr. Bellone a few questions related to the recent transitions and about upcoming research:

What brought you to UC-Davis? 

The opportunity to work at one of the world’s best veterinary schools and leading genetics testing laboratory was too good for me to pass up.  I am excited by all that the resources and opportunities being a UC-Davis faculty member brings to my research program and to the Appaloosa Project.

What does this move mean for the members of the Appaloosa Project? 

While at the University of Tampa my main responsibility was to teach undergraduates students.  Though I miss my colleagues at UT and the opportunity to engage with so many undergraduates in and out of the classroom, this transition affords me more time to focus on research, which hopefully will translate into more information for Appaloosa project members.  

I encourage members to consider the VGL for their DNA testing needs, as the Veterinary Genetics Laboratory (VGL) at UC-Davis was the first genetic testing laboratory in the world to offer the licensed DNA test for the causative mutation for LP and CSNB. 

The faculty and staff at the VGL are very interested in the genetics of appaloosa spotting, and I will work closely with my colleagues here to develop additional testing to assist appaloosa breeding programs.

What appaloosa specific research will you be working on at the VGL? 

I am passionate about determining how the causative mutation for LP biologically impacts pigmentation. 

Though we now understand the physiological pathway that this mutation in TRPM1 disrupts to cause night blindness, it is still unclear how pigmentation is affected.  Revealing this at the molecular level will help in identifying those genes involved in modifying the amount of white and/or the size of the pigmented spots and other associated LP traits.  

We have recently made some progress concerning one of these modifier genes (PATN1) and hope to report more on this soon. 

I also plan to investigate more closely the role that TRPM1 plays in equine recurrent uveitis (ERU) and to identify what other genes are involved in this devastating eye disease. 

Finally, I will also continue our work on studying genetic markers across the genome to understand more about LP breed diversity.

Is there anything that the members of the Appaloosa Project electronic classroom can do to assist you in these endeavors? 

There are two things every genetic research program will always need - samples and funding!

We are always in need of more samples for all the projects we are working on.  So if you see a call for samples during a discussion in the Electronic Classroom, or you have a horse that you think might be of particular interest, please consider participating in our research! 

You can contact Sheila regarding how to send in a sample.

In terms of funding, your subscription fees for the Electronic Classroom have been very helpful – your support has kept the LP research programs going, and I appreciate this continued support more than I could ever convey. Anyone who wants to make a donation to our research fund should know it is always deeply appreciated. 

Finally, I urge all our members to keep asking questions in the Electronic Classroom.  While I may not respond as often as I would like to, I read all of the questions that come in, and many of these have provoked thoughts, discussions and even changed some decisions in study design for our projects.  So please - keep the questions coming!

If you have questions about the LP test being offered at UC Davis or you want to contact Dr. Bellone, you can reach her at rbellone@ucdavis.edu or by calling 530-752-9299.

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