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Scientists complete genome sequence of cows

Researchers have decoded the genome sequence of cows, which could lead to production of better-quality milk and beef, and shed new light on bovine and human health.

It took 300 scientists based in 25 countries six years to unlock the sequence, according to the results published Thursday in Science magazine.

The genome of the domestic cow (Bos taurus) contains about 22,000 separate genes, 80 percent of which are identical to human genes.

The researchers also found that the way chromosomes are organized in humans is closer to the pattern found in cows than in rats or mice -- animals widely used in laboratories for studying human illnesses and treatments.

The "Bovine Genome Sequencing Project" was carried out on Hereford cows, which originated in Britain, but are now found all over the world. The medium-sized cows are usually russet-brown in color and primarily used in beef production.

"The cattle industry is extremely important for US agriculture with more than 94 million cattle in the United States valued at 49 billion dollars," said US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

"Understanding the cattle genome and having the sequence will allow researchers to understand the genetic basis for disease in domestic cattle and could result in healthier production of meat and milk while reducing producers' dependence on antibiotics," he added.

The 35-million-dollar study was led by researchers at Baylor College of Medicine and the US Agricultural Research Service.

"The domestic cattle genome sequence opens another window into our own genome," said the acting director of the National Institutes of Health, Raynard Kington.

"By comparing the human genome to the genomes of many different species, such as the domestic cattle, we can gain a clearer view of how the human genome works in health and in disease."

Genomic data can be used to develop better strategies for treating and preventing diseases that affect cattle, some of which -- such as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, commonly known as mad cow disease -- can also be transmitted to people.

In addition, information from the sequencing "will be a valuable resource and will transform how dairy and beef cattle are bred," said Richard Gibbs, at Baylor College of Medicine's Human Genome Sequencing Center in Houston.

"Genetic tools are already being developed and proving useful to the dairy industry and we predict they will be applied to improve the beef industry.

"We hope the information will also be used to come up with innovative ways to reduce the environmental impact of cattle, such as greenhouse gases released by herds," he added.

The USDA's Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (CSREES) and Agricultural Research Service (ARS) contributed about 10 million dollars for the project.

That came in addition to the 25 million dollars contributed to the project by the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), part of the US National Institutes of Health.

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Publication:AFP Global Edition
Date:Apr 23, 2009
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