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By Fred MillerU of A System Division of AgricultureMay 20, 2016
Related website: http://blog.steakgenomics.org/2016/04/producers-invited-to-participate-in.html
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Genetic adaptation to environment may hold the key to breeding
performance in beef cattle, according to research at the University of Arkansas System
Division of Agriculture.
Jeremy Powell, professor of animal science, learned that early shedding of winter
coats correlated with better breeding performance. Four years of data showed cows
that shed in May had higher pregnancy rates to artificial insemination and their calves
had higher weights at weaning than cows that shed their coats later in the year.
His work attracted the attention of Jared Decker, assistant professor of beef genetics
at the University of Missouri. Decker recently received a three-year grant from USDA’s
National Institute of Food and Agriculture for a multi-institution study to find genetic
adaptation to regional beef production environments.
In short, cattle that are better adapted to the climate, grass and other environmental
conditions feed better, grow better and reproduce better.
“Dr. Decker saw a poster about our shedding research that one of my students presented
at a conference,” Powell said. “It complemented his work on environmental adaptation.”
Powell joined Decker’s NIFA project as a co-investigator. “He really liked that we
already had four years of data,” Powell said.
Building upon his earlier research, Powell is now working to identify genetic markers
that are associated with early shedding.
Rather than being controlled by one or two genes, reproductive traits are controlled
by large numbers of genes that interact in ways that can be difficult to understand.
So Powell is looking at smaller genetic data sets.
The markers he’s looking for are genetic mutations called polymorphisms that are associated
with coat shedding. Each of these mutations takes place in a single base pair of DNA
and are referred to as single-nucleotide polymorphisms, or SNPs (pronounced “snips.”)
If the SNPs associated with shedding can be identified, then they can be cataloged
with genetic markers related to other environmental adaptations found by Decker and
other cooperating researchers.
Powell said this would provide a tool that can help cattle breeders to identify potentially
high-quality breeding stock at an early age. A simple genetic test could help select
female calves to include in a breeding herd.
The NIFA study also gives Powell an opportunity to tackle another health concern for
Powell said beef producers frequently ask him about respiratory problems experienced
by stocker calves. Among the problems this causes is weight loss in weaned calves.
“A lot of this takes place between weaning and 750 pounds,” Powell said. “So, it’s
right in the stocker range.”
Some of these respiratory issues are caused by known viral or bacterial pathogens
for which good medicines exist. But stress is also behind many such cases.
Stockers can be stressed by many causes, Powell said. They are sold and moved to new
locations, spending time in trucks with limited access to water and often mixed in
with calves from different herds.
When stocker calves experience respiratory problems that don’t respond well to medical
therapy, Powell said, it points to a genetic foundation.
So Powell is recording white blood cell counts, an indicator of stress, to correlate
with the genetic profiles being recorded for environmental adaptation — effectively
piggy-backing one research project onto another.
James Koltes, a Division of Agriculture colleague, suggested the inclusion of the
white cell counts in the genetic research and is collaborating with Powell on the
The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers all its Extension
and Research programs and services without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity,
sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran
status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative
Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.
# # #
Media Contact: Mary HightowerDir. of Communication ServicesU of A Division of AgricultureCooperative Extension Service(501) firstname.lastname@example.org