By Bob Sampson
The just-completed project that mapped the bovine genome has actually been helping beef and dairy producers for the past 15 years, says Harris Lewin, a University of Illinois professor of animal sciences whose lab created the high-resolution physical map of the bovine chromosomes.
"Previous to the publication of the latest success in the journal Science, we've been steadily producing findings that directly help producers," he explained. "During that time we've produced genetic maps that reveal the genes responsible for the genetic diseases that plague the beef and dairy industries."
"And Jon Beever, a professor here in the Department of Animal Sciences, has been recognized for his efforts to identify the genes causing genetic diseases in beef cattle," Lewin adds. "Those findings were enabled by the gene maps we've produced."
Beever's lab was instrumental in tracking down the genes for curly calf syndrome in Angus cattle.
Scientists now have the entire blueprint of the cow genome.
"With this information in hand, if a genetic disease shows up it will only take a matter of weeks or at most a couple of months to find the gene responsible," Lewin said.
"This means we can use this knowledge to further improve breeds to avoid the genetic diseases by screening for them," he adds.
Lewin noted that University of Illinois researchers have been working for many years with the cattle seed stock industry, with the result of accelerating genetic improvements.
"Our research has allowed us to quickly identify genes and, thereby, improve the accuracy of selecting for traits," he says. "This, in turn, is handed down to producers who can improve meat tenderness, marbling and other desirable traits in their herds."
As results were produced in the six-year bovine genome mapping projects, these were shared, at no cost, to genetic researchers around the world.
Lewin says completion of the bovine genome map means we now have a genetic map of the origin, domestication, and genetic development of beef and dairy cattle. This helps the industry know how to utilize various genes to improve cattle.
The University of Illinois portion of the overall project was funded by USDA SCREES National Research Initiative and a USDA-CSREES Special Grant for the Livestock Genome Sequencing initiative.
Sampson is Extension Communications Specialist for the University of Illinois.