New research efforts with cattle have found genetic markers which could help to improve breeding by giving ranchers desirable traits such as faster animal growth and greater resistance against disease.
In a University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) study, researchers uncovered links between genetic markers in beef cattle and the development of health and growth-promoting bacteria in an animal’s gastrointestinal tract.
The study was led by KC Jeong, an associate professor of microbiology in the department of animal sciences at UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. In a release, Jeong says “We found host genes that are associated with several healthy gut bacteria. These could eventually become biomarkers for breeders to target so that we can produce cattle with better performance.”
The new study was published in the ISME Journal on March 1.
In the new study, researchers used a UF experimental cattle herd, which consists of animals representing graduated ratios of breed composition from 100% Angus to 100% Brahman. Scientists used breed composition as a proxy for the varying genetic composition of the host animals.
“If we can find host genetic markers associated with these bacteria that are in turn associated with weight gain, this too could be a breeding target, to select for animals that gain weight faster,” Jeong says.
Faster weight gain in cattle can influence meat quality and a rancher’s profitability.
Future plans are to examine the interplay of a host’s genetics with beneficial and harmful gut bacteria. Given the challenges of eradicating disease-causing bacteria from farm animals and their environment, Jeong envisions identifying healthy bacteria and host genetic factors that can be used to develop interventions to reduce harmful gut bacteria.