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Cow Genome Moo-ves Forward: $15M Still Needed

NEW YORK, March 4 -  The cow genome has moved one step closer to the barn door, but there's no sequencing stampede as yet.


Today, the National Human Genome Research Institute announced that it would support bovine sequencing efforts by led by Baylor College of Medicine and TexasA&MUniversitywith half of the $50 million in funding necessary for the project, as long as the institutions can raise the other $25 million from other sources.


Texas Gov. Rick Perry has thrown his cowboy hat into the fundraising ring with a pledge of $10 million state funding over the next three years, and a commitment to help raise the $15 million needed to close the funding gap.


The USDA will chip in some funds, and international backers are expected to provide a slice of the pie as well, according to Kellye Eversole, of the Alliancefor Animal Genome Research.


A team at Baylor, led by Richard Gibbs will do most of the sequencing, while Texas A&M and Illinoisteams will be involved in assembly, said Eversole. They will be using a BAC map of the cow genome that is expected to be completed in April by an international consortium of researchers from the US, Canada, the EU, Australia, New Zealand, and Brazil, she noted.


The team will begin riding herd on the sequencers beginning in September if the funds are raised, the NHGRI said.


Bovine genome project backers have touted its potential agricultural benefits, including better steaks, healthier cattle, and safer food. But Eversole emphasized that the comparative genomics work resulting from this project "will have much greater significance on the biomedical side than any future benefit on the agricultural side."  


Given that researchers already have breeding records for cattle (as well as the dog, which is also on NHGRI's short list for sequencing),   and that cows and dogs have been selected for certain specific traits, "we know where those gene clusters are already, and [this] will help us to identify these human genes in comparable regions." Eversole cited obesity and osteoporosis as two areas where this comparative genomic work would be particularly useful.


This announcement tails the NHGRI's decision earlier this month to add the rhesus macaque to its high-priority list of model organisms to be sequenced.


The cow, along with the dog, joined the list last September, adding to an original animal A-list that included the chicken, chimpanzee, various strains of fungi, the honey bee, the sea urchin, and the eukaryotic protist Tetrahymena thermophila. These high-priority organisms are chosen by a blue-ribbon panel at NHGRI, the Genome Resources and Sequencing Priority Panel (GRASPP).


For the Alliance for Animal Genome research, which is supported by a variety of interest groups from universities to the American Kennel Club and the National Cattlemens' Beef Association, the

the pig genome is the next one to push out of the barn, Eversole said.


The alliance is hoping that international consortium members play a greater role.


But as with the bovine genome, the key factor will still be funding. "We need at least $75 million per year going into the functional genomics of these species, and a comparative amount for bioinformatics," said Eversole.








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