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Completed cattle genome could improve beef and dairy production

Scientists have published the complete cattle genome in the journal Science. UK researchers, including many from The Roslin Institute, 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 Roslin Institute of the University of Edinburgh.

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.

Dr Liz GlassHead of the Livestock Immunogenetics group at The Roslin Institute

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.

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.

Prof Douglas KellBBSRC Chief Executive