Scientists at the University of Alberta have identified 19 genes that could serve as key markers for feed efficiency in cattle.
For the past decade, researchers and cattle breeders have worked to capitalize on the genetic components in the ability of cattle to efficiently convert feed into lean beef, and have made significant progress. Genetic effects on feed efficiency are difficult to measure and quantify though, especially as non-genetic environmental factors also influence feed efficiency. Feed efficiency varies widely between individual cattle however, and improvements through genetic selection could significantly reduce production costs and benefit sustainability of beef production.
The Alberta researchers examined genome-wide gene expression of rumen, liver, muscle and backfat tissues – key tissues involved in energy metabolism. Of about 20,000 genes expressed in those tissues, the researchers identified 19 that are common to all four tissues and appear to be associated with feed efficiency. “The 19 overlapped genes identified from the strongest module–trait relationships in four tissues are potential generic gene markers for feed efficiency,” the researchers say.
U of A ruminant biologist and microbiologist Dr. Le Luo Guan and post-doctoral fellow Dr. Hui-Zeng Sun led the study, and the report, titled “Landscape of Multi-tissue Global Gene Expression Reveals the Regulatory Signatures of Feed Efficiency in Beef Cattle,” is published in the journal Bioinformatics.
Next, according to a U of A release, the researchers intend to validate the results in larger, industry-based experiments, hoping to confirm the 19 identified genes in animals known to display higher-than-average feed efficiency. They also hope to describe the molecular mechanics involved in turning each gene on or off.
For more on use of genomic information in cattle selection, see these articles from BovineVetOnline: