[NEW DELHI] The sequencing of the cow genome, announced last week, could speed up efforts to improve the quality of cattle in the developing world, say livestock scientists.
The sequence, the compilation of which involved 300 scientists from 25 countries, was published in Science last week (24 April). The genome contains 22,000 genes, according to the Bovine Sequencing Consortium.
"The cow genome sequencing work has some large implications for developing-country animal agriculture," says Vish Nene, director of the biotechnology theme at the International Livestock Research Institute, Nairobi.
"The data will help us use a large range of gene analysis technologies for research on cattle, much as the human genome sequence laid the basic framework for medical research," Nene told SciDev.Net.
Local breeds of cattle in the developing world, although hardy, produce relatively low amounts of milk and meat. On the other hand, exotic breeds that have been bred for high yields are difficult to maintain without high-quality feeds, veterinary care and other inputs that are beyond the reach of the poor.
In the short term, the cow genome sequence data can be used to identify genes that have evolved over thousands of years in developing country cattle breeds to help local animals resist endemic diseases, says Nene.
Scientists will also be able to identify more accurately those tropical animal genetic resources in greatest need of conservation.
In the medium to long term the sequence could lead to the production of cattle breeds possessing a mixed set of traits, both those that allow for higher yields of milk and meat and those that allow the breeds to tolerate the often harsh environments of developing countries, Nene says.
Kim Worley — an associate professor at the Human Genome Sequencing Center at the Baylor College of Medicine, Texas, and one of the authors of the paper — told SciDev.Net that gene chips to measure genetic diversity in cattle are already available.
As the use of these tests become more common in the developed world and their cost falls, "these will be used in developing countries as well to augment the practices of selective breeding".
Science 324, 5926 (2009)