For both dairy and beef production, cows are an important part of the US economy and food supply. When they get sick, it's bad for business (and not too pleasant for the cow). The most common illness in cattle is Bovine Respiratory Disease (BRD), which accounts for losses of more than $690M annually in the US alone. To combat this threat to bovine health and productivity, the USDA has recently awarded a $9M 5-year grant to researchers at Texas A&M University's College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, in collaboration with colleagues at the University of Missouri, to study genetic selection for breeding more disease-resitant stock. A second $5M grant will go towards research into feed efficiency, again with the aim of breeding heartier, healthier, and more profitable animals.
[Photo by Blair Fannin, courtesy of Texas AgriLife Extension Service]
The TAMU pathobiologist leading the BRD study is Dr. Jim Womack, whose area of expertise is mammalian genomics. Bovine Respiratory Disease is a general term for a range of respiratory ailments (a "disease complex") that beef and dairy cows contract through a combination of pathogens and an immune system weakened by stress. About 1 in 10 cows will come down with the illness, and though it is not fatal, it weakens the animal and requires veterinary intervention. Because the complex can be caused by such a variety of pathogens, Womack's approach will be to identify the genetic makeup of those cows that don't tend to get sick and compare that genetic data with that of the cows that are sick. In this case, the team will analyze the DNA of some 6000 feedlot cows to determine which have the best innate immunity. Armed with this information, farmers can make better breeding decisions that will ultimately result in a stronger herd and fewer cases of BRD among individuals.
The second USDA grant, for feed efficiency, will also be a joint effort between TAMU and the University of Missouri, with Dr. Christopher Seabury as the main TAMU partner. In this study, researchers will be genotyping 8000 beef cows, as well as looking at the biota in their gut, to see which animals are best at putting on weight with the least amount of food. As is the case with humans, some individuals make better use of food than others and put on weight more or less easily. Breeding for these traits means a savings in feed costs. Understanding what is helping those genes process feed in the cow's stomach(s) could lead to biotic additives that would maximize digestive efficiency and minimize bovine GI problems, which are also common. Seabury says of the study:
"This project undoubtedly has the potential for major scientific advances enabling more efficient and cost-effective cattle production. I'm very excited about the opportunities it will offer to the beef industry."
[Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, courtesy of their website]
TAMU's College of Veterinary Medicine is home to these research labs:
» Comparative Immunogenetics
» Computational Genomics
» Equine Embryo Laboratory
» Gastrointestinal Laboratory
» Ivanek Lab
» Molecular Cytogenetics and Genomics
An extensive new veterinary medicine building is currently under contruction at the University. See our earlier blog for details.
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These other Texas shows might also be of interest to you:
- 02/01/2013 13th Annual Houston BioResearch Product Faire™, located in Houston and situated at the Texas Medical Center.
- 09/18/2013 3rd Annual Front Line Event Austin BioResearch Product Faire™ at the University of Texas, Austin Campus
- 09/19/2013 11th Annual San Antonio BioResearch Product Faire™ situated on the University of Texas Health Science Campus.