A report from the Supporters of Agricultural Research (SoAR) Foundation features several exemplary research projects in agriculture, including the ongoing multi-university study of genetic susceptibility or resistance to bovine respiratory disease (BRD).  The new “Retaking the Field” report—the second in SoAR’s series, builds a case for the value of ongoing or increased financial support for agricultural research.

The authors note that more than one of five cattle on feedlots contracts BRD, one of the most lethal threats to the beef and dairy industries. While vaccinations, management practices and medications can reduce the incidence of BRD, identification of genetic markers for susceptibility or resistance could allow significant progress in selecting cattle based on health along with other production traits.

According to the report, the USDA’s National Animal Health Monitoring System estimates that 21 percent of beef cattle placed in feedlots are infected with BRD, costing the industry approximately $692 million annually. The dairy industry faces similar losses. However, they note that even when living in a stall next to an infected animal, not every cattle contracts BRD.

In the six-institution study , scientists identified dairy calves that showed BRD symptoms and healthy animals in adjacent stalls, with 1,500 sick animals and 1,500 healthy animals examined for genetic characteristics. “It’s inspiring and fascinating to imagine what genetic technology can accomplish. With the right combination of genes, one animal can do what three animals are doing today and be healthier,” says project leader James Womack, PhD, at Texas A&M University.

So far, the scientists have found two dozen regions of the dairy cattle genome that could be associated with BRD resistance. The team will sample 2,000 beef cattle next to correlate their findings.

In addition to Womack, researchers contributing to the project include Mark Enns, PhD, Colorado State University Holly Neibergs, PhD, Washington State University Christopher Seabury, PhD, Texas A&M University Jeremy F. Taylor, PhD, University of Missouri Milton G. Thomas, PhD, Colorado State University Alison L. Van Eenennaam, PhD, University of California, Davis Curtis P. Van Tassell, PhD, USDA Beltsville Agricultural Research Center FUNDING USDA NIFA AFRI Texas A&M AgriLife Research.

Several other projects cited in the report involve livestock. These include:

Iowa State University—Hongwei Xin, PhD, and colleagues developed adaptations for cage-free egg production systems that improve indoor-air quality and allow more farmers to respond to consumer demand by adapting cage-free systems.

Michigan State University—Gale Strasburg, PhD, and colleagues examined the impacts of heat stress on turkey muscle development. In developing methods to boost heat stress tolerance, the researchers help farmers produce better meat.

Ohio State University—Chang-Won Lee, PhD, and colleagues examined and catalogued the microbiome in a chicken’s respiratory tract, the first step in developing management systems that can lower the level of pathogens hurting production.


University of Nebraska, Lincoln—Daniel C. Ciobanu, PhD, and colleagues identified genetic markers in sows associated with the earlier onset of puberty, allowing the pigs to produce more litters in their lifetime and increasing production efficiency.

View the full Retaking the Field report online.