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Monday, April 27, 2009

Better Cow than Swine Flew

HOUSTON CHRONICLE ARCHIVES | Retrieved by Dave Darnell
Paper: Houston Chronicle
Date: Fri 04/24/2009
Section: Business
Page: 1
Edition: 3 STAR R.O.

Research Building a better cow Houston scientists' genome work is likely to improve milk, beef COW: 300 scientists, 25 nations



Since the completion of the Human Genome Project six years ago advances in sequencing technology have dramatically cut the cost of decoding genomes.

Source: Baylor College of Medicine Human Genome Sequencing Center

$250 million Mouse Genome

100 million Rat Genome

$53 million Bovine Genome

$23 million Macaque Genome

$4 million Baboon Genome

$700,000 Deer Mouse Genome

$350,000 1,000 Genomes Project

$5,000-$20,000 Disease Case Genomes

$5,000 Your Genome

Houston scientists have sequenced the genome of a single Hereford cow, opening the barnyard door to a future where insight rather than chance guides domestic breeding.

Understanding the genetics of bovines should allow breeders to build a better cow by selecting genes for everything from disease resistance to improved milk production and meat marbling, scientists say.

The $53 million project led by Baylor College of Medicine also marks the end of genomics as a "big" science. In 2003, after 13 years, scientists completed the Human Genome Project for $3 billion. The cow genome, which took five years, is one of the last costly, large sequencing projects undertaken by big groups of geneticists.

Today, thanks to rapid advances in technology and knowledge gained during these initial large genome sequencing efforts, a similar project would cost about $100,000, or less, and could be done far more quickly.

"One could reasonably say it was pretty dumb to do the cow for $50 million when the cost will go down to $5,000 in a year or two," said Richard Gibbs, director of Baylor's Human Genome Sequencing Center. "But we wouldn't be where we are today, cost-wise, if we hadn't done the cow."

To sequence the cow, Baylor cobbled together funds from the National Institutes of Health, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the state of Texas and other sources.

Gibbs led a team of 300 scientists from 25 countries who found that cows have about 22,000 genes, roughly the same number as humans.

The research was published Thursday in the journal Science.

Scientists concluded that humans and cattle diverged from a common ancestor about 95 million years ago. Humans branched off from their most common ancestor, chimpanzees, about 5 million to 7 million years ago.

Scientists also identified particular regions of the genome that are likely to vary widely from one cow breed to another, and studied the variation among 19 bovine breeds.

The analysis yielded some interesting clues about the recent evolution of cows, scientists say. They indicate human domestication of cattle began about 8,000 to 10,000 years ago, and that this has led to a decrease in the variability of cattle breeds.

"The genetic tools coming out of these studies should allow people to maintain the existing diversity," said Kim Worley, a Baylor geneticist who worked on the studies.

Studying the variation between breeds will also help agricultural scientists identify the genes and regions within the genome that have economic significance, said James Womack, a professor at Texas A&M University's College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences.

That is, what tiny variations in the genomes of different cows make one produce better milk, or a more quality carcass?

Cattle breeders have sought to accomplish this for decades by cross-breeding superior lines of cattle, Womack said, but in recent years they have reached a limit on what these techniques can accomplish. Those limits have sparked considerable interest in the genome data, which will be made freely available.

"I'd say interest is growing," he said. "I can't say it's registered with everyone. But certainly the dairy people have grabbed onto it, and the larger breeders in the beef industry."

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