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Posted 09.08.06

 
 
   

Study Aims to Pinpoint Genes Affecting Milk, Meat Quality in Cattle

MU researcher will use new technology that dramatically speeds the process of analyzing DNA samples

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Few give much thought to what ultimately determines the quality of the steak or hamburger they eat or the milk they drink. It all begins with the source: cattle. Beyond the physical appearance of a cow or bull is a more critical underlying factor: genetic makeup. A faculty member from the University of Missouri-Columbia will soon participate in a genomics study that will help researchers more quickly analyze genetic differences - many of which influence the quality of consumer products - in cattle populations.

Jerry Taylor.Using new technology that will be less expensive and less time consuming, Jerry Taylor, Wurdack Endowed Chair for Animal Genomics in the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources, will collaborate with researchers from the Agricultural Research Service, the chief scientific research agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, to develop a test that will help identify gene sequences that are responsible for differences in milk production, feed efficiency, marbling, fat production and other meat characteristics. The researchers will use high-resolution gene mapping equipment developed by Illumina, Inc., a San Diego-based technology company.

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They will analyze the genetic structure of more than 10,000 cattle, representing at least 10 different breeds. Of that total, 7,000 DNA samples will be analyzed at MU. Using a single test tube, researchers will review as many as 48,000 genetic markers. The analysis phase of the project is scheduled to begin in December and is due for completion by January or February. By comparison, Taylor said genotyping with the previous system, microsatellite methods, won't produce nearly as much information as Illumina's technology. He said only 12 microsatellite markers can be analyzed in one test tube, which would require at least 4,000 test tubes to produce the number of markers that will be analyzed in the upcoming study.

"What used to take years, we now have the technology to do in months," Taylor said. "We can now test large numbers of genes all in one test tube. This is new technology and will produce a dramatically large amount of information."

Taylor is hopeful the data will be useful in determining which genes influence the quality of consumer products. Such information will help cattle producers choose bulls and cows that will produce calves with particular traits, and sort the animals already in the herd according to nutrition needs or other management strategies. It's widely known that certain cattle create more meat with less feed and some have carcasses with better tasting or leaner meat, more tender T-bones or a host of other beef and dairy traits that consumers want.

"Some cattle produce more or less milk, others produce more or less meat," Taylor said. "Genes cause these cattle to be different."

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