Apr. 28, 2009 The landmark sequencing of the domestic cattle genome, reported in the journal Science, could lead to important new findings about health and nutrition, a participating Michigan State University researcher said.
Theresa Casey, a research assistant professor in the Department of Animal Science, joined 300 colleagues around the world in a six-year project to complete, annotate and analyze the bovine genome sequence.
The species Bos taurus includes 22,000 genes, 80 percent of which are shared with humans. Humans, researchers conclude, are closer to the bovine sequence than to those of mice or rats, which are far more commonly used as research subjects.
That realization could open new vistas for human health research.
The new data are especially important given the economic and nutritional importance of cattle to humans, said Casey, whose specialty is study of lactation and mammary gland biology. Focusing on genes that regulate milk synthesis in the cow, she also co-authored a companion report appearing in the journal Genome Biology discussing how the bovine lactation genome sheds light on the evolution of mammalian milk.
"We believe that milk evolved primarily as an immune function," she said, due in part to cow milk's anti-microbial properties.
After comparing the cattle genomic information to that already assembled for other mammal species, Casey's specialty group concluded that milk is essential to the survival of newborn mammals and that the establishment of lactation mechanisms dates back more than 160 million years.
The breed of cattle selected for the sequencing study was the Hereford, commonly used in beef production.
"Hopefully, we get the point across in the articles that by doing agricultural research we can understand much more about the world -- trying to feed the world as well as keeping ourselves healthy," she said.
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