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Completed cattle genome could improve beef and dairy production

23 April 2009

Scientists are tomorrow (24 April 2009) publishing the complete cattle genome in the journal Science. UK researchers, supported in part by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), have played a key part in the annotation and analysis of the genome as part of a 300-scientist collaboration, spanning 25 countries.

The new research adds the bovine (or cattle) genome to the elite of mammals to have had their genome sequenced and annotated. It gives scientists unique insight into the biology and evolution of cattle and could lead to a revolution in cattle breeding. This could lead to increased milk production, disease resistance and meat quality and animal welfare benefits.

With increasing global demand for beef and dairy products as international consumption patterns shift, securing nutritious, affordable and sustainable supplies will be increasingly important in the future.

The UK contribution included scientists from the Institute for Animal Health (IAH), an Institute of BBSRC, The Roslin Institute, a BBSRC-funded Institute that is part of the University of Edinburgh, Imperial College London, Royal Holloway University of London and the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute.

Dr Shirley Ellis, head of the Bovine Molecular Immunology Group at IAH, who was part of the international team, said: "This important achievement provides a sound basis upon which to base future studies into the genetic diversity present in different cattle breeds and populations. It is crucial that we preserve this variation through appropriate breeding programmes in order to maintain healthy cattle populations both in the UK and worldwide that are best able to cope with climate change and emerging diseases".

Dr Liz Glass, head of the Livestock Immunogenetics group at The Roslin Institute, who was also part of the international team said: "Several members of my group contributed to the annotation of immune-related genes, which are amongst the most divergent genes within mammalian species. Understanding the similarities and differences of these immune genes in terms of variation in gene sequences, copy numbers and numbers of family members will provide new opportunities to select for cattle that are better able to cope with the onslaught of infectious diseases, as well as providing basic scientific information on the evolution of genes under selective pressure from pathogens".

More than 22,000 genes have been mapped and scientists now have a draft of the entire cattle genome. This is the first mammalian livestock animal genome to have been published. There are also significant implications for human health as cattle are widely used as models for human reproductive biology and infectious diseases.

Commenting on the mapping, Prof Douglas Kell, BBSRC Chief Executive said: "There is a looming crisis in food production on the horizon. The inexorable growth in the global population and changing consumption patterns in the developing world mean that even before you include climate change we have to find ways to produce more food with fewer resources. We need to recognise that livestock play a key role in many people’s diets. Research such as the cattle genome project underpins the delivery sustainable and nutritious meat with the highest possible standards of animal welfare".

ENDS

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Notes to editors

This research is published in Science: The Genome Sequence of Taurine Cattle: A window to ruminant biology and evolution. The Bovine Genome Sequencing and Analysis Consortium.

For a copy of the paper e-mail: scipak@aaas.org, or visit: www.eurekalert.org/jrnls/sci

The full paper and list of contributors is available from: www.sciencemag.org

About BBSRC

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) is the UK funding agency for research in the life sciences. Sponsored by Government, BBSRC annually invests around £450M in a wide range of research that makes a significant contribution to the quality of life for UK citizens and supports a number of important industrial stakeholders including the agriculture, food, chemical, healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors. BBSRC carries out its mission by funding internationally competitive research, providing training in the biosciences, fostering opportunities for knowledge transfer and innovation and promoting interaction with the public and other stakeholders on issues of scientific interest in universities, centres and institutes.

The Babraham Institute, Institute for Animal Health, Institute of Food Research, John Innes Centre and Rothamsted Research are Institutes of BBSRC. The Institutes conduct long-term, mission-oriented research using specialist facilities. They have strong interactions with industry, Government departments and other end-users of their research.

About The Roslin Institute

The Roslin Institute is a BBSRC Institute associated with the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies at the University of Edinburgh, the number one-ranked Veterinary School in the UK in the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise. The Institute undertakes research within the framework of BBSRC Institute Strategic Programmes focussed on the health and welfare of animals, and applications of basic animal sciences in human and veterinary medicine, the livestock industry and food security.

Contact

Matt Goode, Head of External Relations

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