The Shared Behavioural Genes of Humans and Cows
Some of the genes thought to cause behavioural problems in humans may also cause temperamental behaviour in cattle. A new $1.35M Queensland Primary Industries and Fisheries research project will look at how to switch that gene off in a bid to boost the beef industry.
Minister for Primary Industries, Fisheries and Rural and Regional Queensland Tim Mulherin announced the project ahead of attending the Beef Australia 2009 Expo in Rockhampton.
Mr Mulherin said: “This is exciting, ground-breaking research by our scientists which could literally change the character and quality of our beef herd.
“It would provide a huge boost to Queensland’s beef industry which is worth $3.7 billion a year.
“Even though cattle and humans are separated by 60 million years of evolution we share many of the same genes.
“The genes thought to cause behavioural problems in humans are also found in cattle.
“We already know there is an association between the temperament of cattle and the tenderness of the meat – the more temperamental, the less tender.
“So if our scientists can learn how to switch off the gene that causes irritability in cattle then we can produce more tender meat which has a higher value to industry.
“We’re not just looking at tenderness. We’re also investigating a whole range of other factors that could boost profitability.
“For instance we may be able to influence cattle to have calves earlier in the season.
“Calves born earlier are typically heavier than calves born later in the season and because the cows have calved earlier they can produce a calf once a year ( instead of skipping a year ) and without increasing cow mortalities.
“This is one of the most significant aspects of this research as reproduction rate is the number one driver of profitability in Northern Australian beef enterprises,” Mr Mulherin said.
Leading this five-year investment in cutting edge research is Dr Brian Burns, a Rockhampton-based QPIF principal research scientist specialising in genetics and animal breeding.
Dr Burns said his research project centres around the new field of ‘epigenetics’ – the study of modifications to genes other than changes in the DNA sequence itself.
Dr Burns said: “We’re working closely with national and international partners on expanding our knowledge of ‘epigenetics’.
“Our aim is to breed cattle with the most desirable genetic characteristics for domestic and international markets.