Genetic link between cattle and water buffalo could be the key to more sustainable, healthy and productive herding


Scientists at the Roslin Institute and the Center for Tropical Livestock Genetics and Health (CTLGH) found that domestication had “comparable effects” on regions of the genetic makeup of cattle and water buffalo, associated with characteristics of production such as milk production, disease resistance and birth weight.

This is important because, while genetic sequences linked to beneficial traits can be found in different species, gene editing techniques can help improve the productivity and health of farm animals.

“Cattle and water buffalo were selectively bred for similar traits. For example, body size and milk production. These traits will probably be the easiest to compare and will therefore benefit from this type of comparison between species ”,Dr James Prendergast, senior researcher at the Roslin Institute, told FoodNavigator.

“By better understanding the genetics of domestication in cattle and water buffalo, we can use the knowledge we have gained about one species and apply it to another, to further improve animal health and productivity.”

In addition, this new understanding of the genetic cross between water buffalo and cattle opens the door to healthier cattle, the scientist continued.

“Cattle and water buffalo are susceptible to many of the same diseases, for example tropical theileriosis to which productive European cattle are particularly susceptible, reducing their use in endemic areas. These diseases can therefore constitute a major obstacle to increasing animal production. Understanding the genetics of disease tolerance in one species will potentially allow us to improve tolerance in the other.

Dr Prasun Dutta, research associate at the Roslin Institute, added that if animal husbandry is more productive, it could “potentially” help improve the sustainability of the animal husbandry industry.

“If animals are more efficient at converting food into milk, that would be an advantage. More generally, there is no doubt that genetic sequencing and gene editing have the potential to make animal production more sustainable, faster ”,Dr Dutta told FoodNavigator.

Leveraging the study results does not depend on gene editing technologies, which are heavily regulated in Europe, Dr Prendergast stressed.. “The results of this type of study can still be exploited without needing to be modified, for example by targeting loci for marker-assisted selection”he noted.

The study – published in Nature Communications and funded by CTLGH, the Government of India and the UK Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council for Research and Innovation – compared the genomes of 79 water buffaloes to those of 294 cattle around the world, as well as other domesticated species.

The shared impacts of domestication likely extend to other species, the study noted. For example, the DNA change that causes a black coat color in German Shepherd dogs has also been found in some water buffalo, which were selected for their coat color.

The research also found that regions of the genomes of cattle and water buffalo linked to domestication overlap with those associated with stature in the human genome, likely resulting from human pressures to increase animal size.

“Analysis of the complete genome of water buffalo and global cattle breeds reveals convergent signatures of domestication”
Nature Communication
Authors: Dutta, P., Talenti, A., Young, R. et al

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