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Improved DNA reference aids African cattle research

Details of African and European cattle DNA incorporated into globally relevant reference genome.

A resource detailing the DNA of cattle, which will aid research into livestock health and productivity, has been developed by a team led by Roslin scientists.

Researchers have created an improved reference genome, detailing the DNA of a variety of cattle, which can be used to underpin research into genes and other elements of DNA governing key traits for livestock.

For the first time, the genome incorporates information from key African cattle breeds. This includes sections of genetic code not found in the European breeds on which earlier versions of the reference genome were based.

The more globally representative DNA reference is intended to support research in a range of cattle breeds. It may be especially useful in aiding understanding of breeds from Africa, for which scientific resources are limited, despite the animals’ economic significance.

Combining genomic data

A team from the Roslin Institute in collaboration with the International Livestock Research Institute and the Centre for Tropical Livestock Genetics and Health determined the genetic code for two breeds of cattle common to Africa – the N’Dama and Ankole breeds.

Genomic details for these African breeds were integrated with existing data on three European breeds to create the globally relevant new reference genome.

The Ankole and N’Dama cattle were found to have portions of DNA not present in European breeds, the study has found.

The data has been represented in graph form, an emerging style of representation for genomic information, which reflects diversity within species and enables researchers to easily locate DNA regions of interest.

The study, published in Nature Communications, was supported by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, which is a part of UKRI. This research was also funded in part by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and with aid from the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.

European breeds account for a small proportion of all global cattle livestock, yet they are well researched and so dominate current genetic resources. Our reference genome offers a globally representative resource which we hope will support research across many varieties of cattle. This is especially important for economically important breeds in Africa.

Dr James PrendergastRoslin Institute

** The Roslin Institute receives strategic investment funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and it is part of the University of Edinburgh’s Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies. **

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