In early 2009 New Zealand scientists played a key role in genetic research that is predicted to transform cattle breeding techniques worldwide and lead to more efficient milk and beef production.

AgResearch scientists and Livestock Improvement Corporation (LIC) were part of a major international collaboration to map the cow genome. The results of the research were recently published in the journal Science

The scientists mapped 2,870 billion DNA building blocks that provide the code for the a cow's 22,000 genes (about 14,000 of which are common to all mammals, including humans).

John McEwan from AgResearch says, in return for our contribution to the study, New Zealand was allowed early access to data and influence in the decision to prioritise the cow genome over other species.

“New Zealand will benefit greatly from this research due to its economic dependence on products from ruminants,” he says. Last year, around 38% of the $43 billion of New Zealand exports was derived from dairy, sheep and beef products.

One of the benefits of this research has been development of ‘SNP chips’, which are used to survey the genetic variability of the bovine gene pool. SNPs are single nucleotide polymorphisms, or unusual variances in DNA.

Variants discovered as part of the associated DNA sequencing have already been adapted by both of New Zealand’s leading breeding companies, LIC and CRV Ambreed, to speed up genetic progress in improving dairy production.

    Published 29 April 2009