EU project analyses genetic resistance to disease in livestock

By Carmen Paun, in Brussels

- Last updated on GMT

Scientists to identify disease-resistant genes
Scientists to identify disease-resistant genes

Related tags Cattle Genetics European union Beef Livestock Poultry

A European Union (EU) funded research project called Quantomics has been investigating the hereditary information of cattle and chicken to discover the genes that make them more resistant to diseases and infections.

The results should help livestock breeders know which animals and birds are likely to develop diseases such as mastitis in cattle or E coli infections in chickens and select the genetically healthiest for breeding.

The project has received EUR8.14 million in funding from the EU’s seventh framework programme for research (FP7) and it involves 17 research institutes from Europe and Israel, led by the University of

Edinburgh’s Biosciences Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN).

According to KTN director Chris Warkup, molecular genetic tools developed by Quantomics can inform breeders which animals are likely to pass on to the next generation genes that make them resistant to diseases.

“Improvement of animals through selective breeding is a continuous process that delivers permanent and cumulative improvements in livestock performance,”​ Warkup told a European Commission briefing note.

Denmark’s Aarhus University, one of the research institutions involved in the project, has delivered the entire set of hereditary information of 18 Ayrshire cattle in Finland, and 20 Brown Swiss bulls in Italy. The results will be used to identify specific genes that make the animals resistant to mastitis.

“Earlier research has shown that resistance or susceptibility to the disease is monitored by genetic factors,”​ a project briefing document read, noting that Quantomics was trying to discover exactly how these factors render certain animals resistant and others susceptible to mastitis.

“The end results will be directly usable in selection programmes aiming at enhancing the health profile of the world dairy cattle population,” the document explained.

The project has carried similar work on chickens, trying to find out how to enhance the birds’ resistance to E coli infections: “Appropriate breeding programmes utilising this information will ensure fewer infections, less antibiotic usage and healthier, more robust birds,”​ the Quantomics paper read, adding that the results will be directly applicable to chickens which end on consumers’ tables.

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