NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The US Department of Agriculture has awarded two grants totaling $14 million to researchers conducting genomics and genetic studies of cattle with an eye toward improving health and breeding.
The first grant to a consortium led by the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences will provide $9.2 million to conduct studies on bovine respiratory disease (BVD) and feed efficiency. Researchers on the project will search for genetic components that provide resistance to pathogens that cause the disease.
According to Texas A&M, BVD is the leading cause of death in beef and dairy cattle and results in annual losses of more than $690 million in the US.
In addition to funding the research, the grant will support undergraduate, veterinary, and graduate education. It also will facilitate translation of the research into practical application in feedlots and dairy farms, the university said.
"We have known for years that individual cattle vary in their response to the pathogens responsible for Bovine Respiratory Disease and that much of this variation is genetic," said James Womack, project director for the five-year grant and a professor at by the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. "We now have the genomic tools to identify the basis for this variation at the DNA level and to utilize this information in selective breeding programs and animal health management.
"This project will be a model for the power of cooperation of major research and educational institutions and animal industries to make basic scientific discoveries, to train professionals in the application of these discoveries, and to translate new knowledge into economic gain along with improved animal health and welfare," he added.
The second grant will provide $5 million for a project led by the University of Missouri College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources, to study feed efficiency in cattle. Researchers working on this project will genotype 8,000 cattle and determine how genetic differences affect feed intake and efficiency. They also plan to study specific bacteria and microbes that reside in the cattle's stomach that aid in food digestion.
"If we can identify and selectively breed the animals that have the best combination of genes for producing high-quality beef with the least amount of grain, their offspring could reduce environmental impacts and save producers millions of dollars," Jerry Taylor, chair of animal genomics for the college and the project's leader, said in a statement.