URBANA, Ill. — While the six-year effort that mapped the bovine genome gains international attention, Illinois beef and dairy producers have been benefiting from the research for the past 15 years, said Harris Lewin, a University of Illinois professor of animal sciences whose lab created the high-resolution physical map of the bovine chromosomes.
“Previous to the publication of the latest success in the journal Science, we’ve been steadily producing findings that directly help producers,” he explained. “During that time we’ve produced genetic maps that reveal the genes responsible for the genetic diseases that plague the beef and dairy industries.
“And Jon Beever, a professor here in the Department of Animal Sciences, has been recognized for his efforts to identify the genes causing genetic diseases in beef cattle. Those findings were enabled by the gene maps we’ve produced.”
The latest breakthrough means scientists now have the entire blueprint of the cow genome.
“With this information in hand, if a genetic disease shows up it will only take a matter of weeks or at most a couple of months to find the gene responsible,” Lewin said. “This means we can use this knowledge to further improve breeds to avoid the genetic diseases by screening for them.”
Lewin noted that University of Illinois researchers have been working for many years with the cattle seed stock industry, with the result of accelerating genetic improvements.
“Our research has allowed us to quickly identify genes and, thereby, improve the accuracy of selecting for traits,” he said. “This, in turn, is handed down to producers who can improve meat tenderness, marbling and other desirable traits in their herds.”
As results were produced in the six-year bovine genome mapping projects, these were shared, at no cost, to genetic researchers around the world.
“Now we have a genetic map of the origin, domestication and genetic development of beef and dairy cattle. And because we have that map, we now know how to utilize various genes to improve cattle,” he said.