Scientists at UCD have traced the origins of a gene in thoroughbred horses that is associated with greater speed.

They have analyzed DNA from hundreds of horses and tracked the gene back to one single British mare that lived more than 300 years ago.

The findings are published today in science journal Nature Communications.

The research was carried out by an international team led by scientists at UCD and the University of Cambridge.

Two years ago, UCD researchers discovered the so-called speed gene in thoroughbreds.

This latest research traces the lineage of that gene.

Among DNA analyzed were samples taken from the skeletal remains of 12 celebrated stallions born as long ago as 1764.

Scientists had thought the gene would originate with a stallion and were surprised to trace it back to a mare.

The horse is believed to have been a British Shetland mare.

Dr Emmeline Hill of UCD said Ireland had long been renowned as a leader in the production of world class racehorses.

It continued to lead now, she said, in the application of new scientific technologies in breeding and racing.

According to the science journal's website: "Selective breeding for speed in the racehorse has resulted in an unusually high frequency of the C-variant (g.66493737C/T) at the myostatin gene (MSTN) in cohorts of the Thoroughbred horse population that are best suited to sprint racing."