Genomics creates more productive cattle

New research by Victorian scientists is helping increase productivity in the dairy and beef industries by accelerating the pace of genetic gain in the state's cattle herds.

La Trobe University and Department of Environment and Primary Industries scientists Dr Hans Daetwyler and Dr Ben Hayes have led a large international consortium from seven nations that recently completed sequencing the genomes of 234 cattle.

In a paper published today in the prestigious international journal 'Nature Genetics', the researchers explain how the project will help develop DNA profiling tests that dairy and beef producers can use to make better breeding decisions that lead to more productive animals.

Capturing genetic variation for all cattle breeds

Dr Hayes, an Associate Professor at La Trobe University, said the aim of the project has been to build a large database that captures the majority of the genetic variation for all cattle breeds.

'Information gathered from this research will allow cattle producers to make better predictions of the breeding merit of young bulls or heifers and the impact that genetics have on milk production, fertility, and other traits that affect farm profitability,' he said.

Dr Hayes said analysis of the genome sequences had already exposed genetic defects, which could now be removed to improve the health and welfare of future herds.

'The sequenced genomes have identified genetic defects that are known to reduce fertility and cause severe dwarfism in cattle,' he said. 

'This information will be immediately deployed in breeding programs to reduce or eliminate such disorders and improve the efficiency of milk and beef production.'

Legendary bulls with millions of daughters

'We have already sequenced the entire genomes of 234 cattle and identified a total of 28.3 million genetic variants that can now be used to aid genomic prediction and help farmers predict which animals are the most productive on the farm,' Dr Hayes said.

'The Holstein dairy bulls sequenced have had more than 518,000 daughters on dairy farms in Australia and at least 6.3 million daughters globally, revealing that they are true legends of the breed.'

The research is the first stage of the '1000 Bull Genomes Project' of the Australian Government's Dairy Futures Co-operative Research Centre with support from the Victorian Department of Environment and Primary Industries and Dairy Australia.

It is undertaken at Agribio, the Centre for Agribioscience, a joint venture between the Victorian government and La Trobe University.

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