Edinburgh Infectious Diseases
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Unraveling cattle immunity: the role of epigenetic markers

Unveiling cattle immune system diversity and disease resistance potential through DNA chemical markers

A cow eating grass
New study exmained diversity of immune cell regulation a rnge of different cattle breeds.

Researchers at the Roslin Institute have made notable discoveries regarding the variations in chemical markers attached to DNA, which play a crucial role in influencing gene activity within the immune systems of cattle.

The new study ha revealed extensive divergence in these markers within immune cells across different cattle subspecies, indicating their potential influence on variations in cattle immune responses.

These findings hold significant implications, as they pave the way for more representative and inclusive research encompassing global cattle populations. Moreover, they provide valuable insights that can aid in the enhancement of livestock disease resistance, benefiting both the cattle industry and animal welfare.

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A collaborative effort by the Roslin and Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies has resulted in the creation of a comprehensive dataset of DNA and chromatin modification, encomapassing 150 samples derived from immune cells belonging to three distinct cattle breeds across the UK, Kenya, and Brazil.

Researchers successfully employed a novel method to determine the proportions of different immune cell types in blood samples. By scrutinizing the unique chemical markers found on DNA, they were able to discern the relative abundance of specific cell types. These markers, while not altering the DNA sequence, possess the ability to modulate gene function by influencing gene activation or repression.

While previous research has shed light on genetic disparities among cattle breeds, the understanding of chemical modifications to DNA responsible for differences in immune responses remains limited.

These new findings have important implications for understand of genetic editing across breeds, and for the future design of  effective cattle epigenome-wide association studies in non-European breeds.

The chemical modifications that can influence gene activity without changing the DNA sequence are largely understudied in cattle, especially in non-European breeds. Understanding the variation between cattle which respond well or poorly to infections will be essential for selective breeding of animals with improved disease resistance.

Dr Jess Powell, Core scientist post-doctoral research fellow, Roslin Institute and Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies

Published in Genome Biology, this research received support from an EASTBIO PhD studentship, the UK Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. These collaborative efforts were conducted under the guidance of the Centre for Tropical Livestock Genetics and Health (CTLGH).

Read the paper

Related links

The Roslin Institute

Jessica Powell profile

Connelley lab

Open access data set