Genetic link between cattle temperament and a

image: The cattle industry standard for measuring temperament is ‘time of flight’ – the speed at which cattle move after being released from a pen. Cattle that move calmly and slowly out of the pen, rather than charging in an aggressive or stressed state, are preferred.
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Credit: (c) University of Queensland

A strong association between genes influencing cattle temperament and autism in humans has been found by researchers at the University of Queensland.

UQ genomics expert Prof Ben Hayes said research by his interdisciplinary team led by Dr Roy Costilla could lead to improved animal welfare and meat quality.

“The research does not mean that cattle have autism, but rather that cattle share an overlap of genes with humans that are essential for brain function and response to fear stimuli,” Prof Hayes said.

Temperament is an important trait for the daily management of cattle.

“We knew that genetic factors probably influenced cattle temperament and we thought that genes involved in behavioral traits in humans could also influence cattle temperament.

“We found that genes known to contribute to autism spectrum disorders also influence cattle temperament.”

Prof Hayes said the findings were important as they paved the way for research into behavioral traits in humans to shed more light on cattle temperament.

“As I’ve found from talking to farmers over the years, it can be a pain to have an animal with a bad temper in crowds and agitating all the other cattle putting them in a state of stress.

“If we can identify these animals early or breed them to eliminate them, we can potentially reduce stress for the entire crowd.

“This has big welfare implications – not just of the livestock but also of the people handling the livestock who are less likely to be charged or hit.”

Prof Hayes said there was an association between a calmer temperament in cattle and better meat quality.

“The cattle industry standard for measuring temperament is ‘time of flight’ – the speed at which cattle move after exiting a pen,” Prof Hayes said.

“What a producer wants is cattle that move calmly and slowly out of the paddock, rather than an animal that charges in an aggressive or stressed state.

“Our study found that time of flight is about 35% hereditary, which is very significant.

“That means you can make a lot of progress breeding for a better temperament – it’s about the same as milk production in dairy cattle, and we’ve made big gains in breeding there.”

Prof Hayes said the same genes had been identified in other genomic research carried out on the domestication of foxes.

“The same genes come back over and over again,” he said. “Certain DNA variants of these genes are more common in people with autism, and in cattle, certain DNA variants of these same genes make cattle more fearful of new situations and have a reactive temperament.”

This is the first time that whole genome sequencing has been used to analyze beef cattle temperament. The researchers looked at 28 million data points per animal on the 9,000 cattle with temperament recordings in the initial study, then validated the results on more than 80,000 cattle from Ireland.

Prof Hayes said his team would incorporate temperament data into a panel of markers available to growers that would also provide breeding values ​​for fertility.

“This means that a producer will be able to use a DNA-containing tail hair sample to quickly gain insight into the genetic value of his animals in terms of temperament and fertility. Temperament analysis has been carried out primarily on cattle of the Bos indicus breed from the North and has been validated in bos taurus cattle.


The study is the result of close cooperation between Australian researchers, the beef industry and international collaborators from Ireland and Brazil.

The research is published in Evolution of genetic selection (DOI: 10.1186/s12711-020-00569-z).

Media: Professor Ben Hayes, [email protected], +61 (0) 434 210 890; QAAFI communications from UQ, [email protected], +61 (0) 419 578 356.

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