Image of a cow's nose.

Scientists have taken a closer look at the bovine genome.

Bovine genome decoded

Breakthrough research into the genetic blueprint of the domestic cow could lead to major improvements in Australia's farming industry.

  • 21 April 2011 | Updated 20 April 2012

Overview

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In 2009, after six years of research and US$53 million in funding, scientists finally cracked one of farming's most important codes by sequencing the entire genome of a domestic cow (Bos taurus).

Over 300 researchers from 25 countries closely analysed the genetic makeup of 'L1 Dominette', a female Hereford cow based in Montana, USA, in a worldwide effort to better understand mammalian evolution and accelerate genetic improvement in livestock.

CSIRO helped initiate the project and was a major player in the analysis of the bovine genome sequence, with a number of key Australian beef experts commending the organisation for its significant contribution.

'It's not possible to overestimate the scientific value of the bovine genome sequence,' said Dr Jay Hetzel, Board Member of the Beef Genetic Technologies Cooperative Research Centre.

'It really lays the foundation for not only separating the contribution of nature and nurture, but also to understand the role of genes and gene networks in all biological pathways.'

As one of the key leaders in the Bovine Genome Sequencing Project, Dr Ross Tellam from CSIRO Livestock Industries said the unravelling of the genetic sequence of cattle marked a milestone in scientific research, and would help researchers improve the production efficiency of beef and dairy products.

The unravelling of the genetic sequence of cattle marks a milestone in scientific research, and will help researchers improve the production efficiency of beef and dairy products.

He said understanding the domestic cattle genome sequence would have a profound influence on livestock research and the livestock industries, such as:

  • increased productivity
  • increased efficiency
  • smaller environmental footprint.

Researchers published two major papers in the 24 April 2009 edition [external link] of Science, and 24 companion reports describing more detailed analyses.

The research was undertaken by the Bovine Sequencing and Analysis Consortium and the Bovine HapMap Consortium.

All of the articles can be freely accessed from open access publisher BioMed Central [external link].

In the first project, the Bovine Genome Sequencing and Analysis Consortium sequenced the approximately 3 billion DNA base pairs of L1 Dominette.

In the second project, the Bovine HapMap Consortium used the completed sequence of the Hereford cow and compared it with those of six other breeds - the Holstein, Angus, Jersey, Limousin, Norwegian Red and Brahman - to identify genetic variants.

The extent of this variation was then documented in a large and diverse population of animals representing the majority of known breeds.

Some of the key findings from the two papers are outlined in the following pages.