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Genomics Research May Make Bull Selection Easier

Researchers at Cornell University employ new technique to improve quality of milk and meat through easier breeding selection

Published on: May 22, 2013

A team of researchers at Cornell University are applying genomics sequencing techniques previously used in corn to improve the quality of milk and meat in livestock and expedite bull selection for producers.

By using the Genotyping-by-sequencing technique first discovered by USDA Agricultural Research Service geneticist Rob Elshire, Cornell researcher Ikhide Imumorin, assistant professor of animal genetics and genomics at Cornell, said genetic traits will be easier to identify and put to use.

"Breeders are interested in cattle with traits such as high meat or milk quality, disease resistance and heat tolerance, but identifying the best animals means sorting through thousands of unique gene variants in the genome," explained Imumorin, lead researcher.

Researchers at Cornell University employ new technique to improve quality of milk and meat through easier breeding selection
Researchers at Cornell University employ new technique to improve quality of milk and meat through easier breeding selection

In the study, the research team identified 50,000 genetic markers from 47 cattle representing six breeds from the U.S. and Nigeria. Their analysis showed the markers were preferentially located in or near the gene-rich regions in the arms of the chromosome, making them well-sited for tagging genes in genetic studies.

Cost is also a factor. Imumorin explained that until recently, genomics testing costs were not affordable, and many cattle species, particularly those outside the United States and Europe found in Africa and Asia, were excluded from genomics advances.

However, the new technique could reduce costs significantly. "While a genetic profile could run $70 to $150 per individual using commercially available methods, GBS brings the cost down to around $40 a sample or less," Imumorin said. "It's a very exciting time."

Imumorin predicts that in the future, GBS will be deployed by breeders and geneticists scanning herds for superior breeding stock.

"For example, a bull can have genes for superior milk production, but the only way to test that is to evaluate milk production in his daughters," Imumorin said. "A bull will be at least five years old before two generations of his offspring can be evaluated, and that's a long time for breeders to take care of a bull which may not make the final cut. These techniques hasten the day when a bull's value can be assessed using genetics on its day of birth more cheaply than we can do now."

The study was funded by Zoetis, Inc., a grant from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, and USDA Federal Formula Hatch Funds appropriated to the Cornell University Agricultural Experiment Station.

More information on GBS projects can be found here.

News source: Cornell