Genetically Improving U.S. Cattle--The
Future Builds on the Past
By Hank Becker
December 2, 1999
The future of the milk industry may
be greatly influenced by animal geneticist Curtis P. Van Tassell's research.
The Agricultural Research Service
scientist's project aims to produce healthier cows, greater profits for farmers
and higher-quality milk for consumers.
Van Tassell's work brings together two key ARS labs in Beltsville, Md.--the
Animal Improvement Programs
Laboratory (AIPL) and the Gene Evaluation and Mapping
Laboratory (GEML). He will integrate newly identified molecular markers
with existing data sources to determine how to raise the accuracy of evaluated
traits in dairy cattle, thus increasing their rate of genetic improvement.
Researchers at the AIPL keep tabs on traits such as milk, fat, protein and
other traits that affect cows' health, vigor and profitability. They estimate
the genetic merit of more than 16 million dairy cows from data obtained since
1960 through industry-wide dairy production testing and record-keeping systems,
and through breed registry societies.
Scientists at the GEML study genes related to growth, disease resistance and
productivity of the mammary gland. They also use gene-mapping techniques to
gain more knowledge of the structure of dairy cows' genome, and develop
technology to select animals based on true genetic merit. So far, they've
studied 105 of the more than 1,000 genetic markers for cattle that researchers
As a result of research at both labs, individual genes influencing important
traits like mastitis resistance, milk, fat and protein concentrations will be
easier to identify and use in breeding decisions. Using the genetic markers in
evaluating cattle can accelerate the rate of genetic improvement for milk
production and other economically important traits, such as health and
A story about the research appears in the December issue of Agricultural Research magazine and
on the web at:
ARS is the U.S. Department of
Agriculture's chief research agency.
Scientific contact: Curtis P. Van Tassell, ARS Animal Improvement
Programs Laboratory, Beltsville, Md., phone (301) 504-9271, fax (301) 504-8092,