Cow genome sequencing could transform farming and help human health

April 24, 2009

An international team of scientists have published the entire DNA genome of an 8-year-old female Hereford living at an experimental farm in Montana, a major milestone in animal genetics. The project was a six-year effort that involved more than 300 scientists from 25 countries and cost $53 million. In mapping the cattle genome, scientists discovered how certain chromosomal rearrangements affect genes related to immunity, metabolism, digestion, reproduction and lactation.

“We chose to study the cow genome because these animals are of such immense importance to humans,” explained Richard Gibbs from Baylor College of Medicine’s Human Genome Sequencing Center, a leading contributor to the project. Part of the work involved comparing the genome of the cow, Bos taurus, with that of the human, dog, mouse, rat, opossum and platypus. In the way their chromosomes are organized, cows are more like people than mice and rats commonly used as research animals. Cows have about 22,000 genes, and about 80 percent of their genetic material is the same as humans who have 20,000 or so genes. By comparing the results to other sequenced genomes, including that of humans, the researchers discovered how cows could help inform research into human health and disease. Agriculture officials say the research will drastically improve the way cattle are bred and consequently bolster efforts to produce better beef and dairy products.


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