Science

Scientists sequence cow genome

Scientists have sequenced the genetic blueprint of domestic cows, a feat they say may lead to advances in producing more nutritious meat and milk products and provide a better understanding of the human genome.

Scientists have sequenced the genetic blueprint of domestic cows, a feat they say may lead to advances in producing more nutritious meat and milk products and provide a better understanding of the human genome.

Among the findings of the six-year effort by 300 researchers around the world and in Canada, were the specific sequences relating to digestion, reproduction, lactation, immunity and metabolism.

The scientists found that humans and cattle have about 80 per cent of their genes in common, and that the organization of the human genome is closer to cattle than those of rats or mice, rodents that are often used to test drugs intended for people.

But sequencing the 22,000 genes of the bovine genetic code itself is less important than the future research it will support, said Marco Marra, the director of the Genome Sciences Centre of the British Columbia Cancer Agency and one of many Canadians involved in the project.

"If you look at the example of when the human genome was sequenced, the value wasn't in the sequence itself, but in the discoveries the sequence fuelled," Marra told CBC News.

"This gives us a platform to begin to study what the genes do, what properties they have, and whether or not they are important," he said.

Areas of interest for agricultural researchers include investigations into diseases such as mad cow disease as well as meat and milk production.

The sequencing project, which cost $50 million US, began with a single Hereford cow named "L1 Dominette" at a research farm near Miles City, Mon. That cow's DNA was then compared with cows from six other breeds, information that was then used to analyze variations of almost 500 cattle from 19 different regions.

Canada's contribution to the project was funded through Genome Canada.

The other organizations contributing to the research were the U.S. National Human Genome Research Institute; the U.S. Department of Agriculture; the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization of Australia; Agritech Investments Ltd., Dairy Insight, Inc. and AgResearch Ltd., all of New Zealand; the Research Council of Norway; the Kleberg Foundation; the State of Texas and the National, Texas and South Dakota Beef Check-off Funds.

now