Domestic cattle genome sequence published

by Bryan Salvage
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WASHINGTON — An international consortium of researchers has published the genome of domestic cattle, the first livestock mammal to have its genetic blueprint sequenced and analyzed, announced the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Institutes of Health. The landmark research will bolster efforts to produce better beef and dairy products and lead to a better understanding of the human genome, U.S.D.A. said.

Funding for the sequencing and analysis of the bovine genome was, in part, from U.S.D.A.'s Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service and Agricultural Research Service, who jointly contributed approximately $10 million. Almost $25 million was contributed to the project by the National Human Genome Research Institute, a part of the N.I.H., which is a component of the Department of Health and Human Services.

"The cattle industry is extremely important for U.S. agriculture with more than 94 million cattle in the United States valued at $49 billion," said Tom Vilsack, Agriculture Secretary. "Understanding the cattle genome and having the sequence will allow researchers to understand the genetic basis for disease in domestic cattle and could result in healthier production of meat and milk while reducing producers' dependence on antibiotics."

"The domestic cattle genome sequence opens another window into our own genome," said Raynard S. Kington, M.D., Ph.D, acting N.I.H. director. "By comparing the human genome to the genomes of many different species, such as the domestic cattle, we can gain a clearer view of how the human genome works in health and in disease."

Researchers from the Bovine Genome Sequencing Project, in a paper published in the journal Science, estimate that the genome of the domestic cattle (Bos taurus) contains approximately 22,000 genes and shares about 80% of its genes with humans.

Genomic information can also be used to develop better strategies for treating and preventing diseases that affect cattle.

Researchers found that some chromosomal rearrangements in the domestic cattle genome affect genes related to immunity, metabolism, digestion, reproduction and lactation. They think some of these changes may explain the unique ability of cattle to convert grass and other low-energy food sources into high-energy muscle, fat and milk.

A related paper also appears in today's issue of Science. In that paper, the Bovine HapMap Consortium unveils a map that charts key DNA differences, called haplotypes, among the diverse branches of the bovine tree. The scientists compared the Hereford genome sequence with those of six other breeds: the Holstein, Angus, Jersey, Limousin, Norwegian Red and Brahman.

Generally, the bovine HapMap indicates present day cattle came from a diverse ancestral population from Africa, Asia and Europe, that has undergone a recent rapid decrease in population size, probably due to domestication. Researchers can use the bovine HapMap to track DNA differences between cattle breeds to assist discovery of traits for better meat and milk production.

Sequencing the bovine genome is part of U.S.D.A.'s "Blueprint for USDA Efforts in Agricultural Animal Genomics," a 10-year plan developed in 2007 for research, education and extension in animal genomics in an effort to improve animal production practices.

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