LINCOLN, Neb. — Meat researchers based at the USDA’s Meat Animal Research Center (USMARC) in Clay Center, Nebraska, and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) said they found two genes associated with bovine congestive heart failure (BCHF). This is the first study to confirm genetic risk factors related to BCHF.

The two groups worked with Lincoln, Nebraska-based MatMaCorp, a developer of diagnostic systems for science, agriculture and medicine, to translate the new information into a genetic test that is being used in selective breeding and animal health management. 

“Reducing the impact of BCHF is a high priority for the cattle industry,” said Dr. Brian Vander Ley, assistant professor, veterinary epidemiologist at UNL, and co-principle investigator on the project. “One of our aims is to develop a genetic test for BCHF to help manage this disease and improve animal health and well-being.” 

The researchers and MatMaCorp said, BCHF involves pulmonary hypertension that leads to right ventricular failure and eventually death. 

Samples of 102 cases of BCHF and 102 unaffected matched pen mates were used in a genome-wide association study. It revealed 21 genomic regions highly associated with BCHF. Regions with the strongest association included the arresting domain-containing 3 protein (ARRDC3) and nuclear factor IA (NFIA) genes. Animals with both risk factors were approximately 15-fold more likely to have BCHF compared to those without (p-value < 10-10).

Researchers said the roles of these genes in disease pathogenesis are unknown. However, the discovery helps classifying animals by genetic risk for heart failure and will help meat producers to make informed decisions on selective breeding. 

“Once we had the associated genes in hand, we wanted to begin validating the two best markers immediately because animals are dying every day from this disease,” said Michael Heaton, USMARC scientist and co-principle investigator on the project. “Our aim was to use a platform that allowed us to transfer the technology without delay. Working closely with MatMaCorp scientists, we developed our first targeted genetic test for BCHF in one week. Soon after, we began validating our results in newly identified BCHF cases, and subsequently we identified high- and low-risk calves in a crop of more than a thousand from a severely affected herd.”