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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Healthy Animals Newsletter

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Issue 6, November 2000
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Mapping Livestock Genomes to Improve Animal Health

Assembly of the first draft of the human genome heralded a new age in human medicine. The time it takes to find genes related to specific traits or disease has been radically shortened, in some cases from several decades to a few years. Animal agriculture will also reap benefits from the Human Genome Project, as the project provides research tools and resources previously unavailable to livestock production research.

Due to funding constraints, genomes of agricultural animals will likely never be elucidated as fully as the human genome. But commonalities between human, mouse, and livestock genomes will allow greater understanding of how livestock genetics can be used to improve animal health.

ARS has long played a key role in the international research on animal genomes. In 1994, researchers at ARS’ Meat Animal Research Center provided the first genetic linkage maps for cattle and swine. In 1995, ARS scientists at the Gene Evaluation and Mapping Laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, identified a region on chromosome 23 where genes may influence a cow’s response to mastitis.

More than two dozen ARS scientists at eight locations develop genetic information on livestock, poultry, or fish or microbes that cause animal disease, such as the bacterium that causes Johne’s disease in cattle. This research benefits from access to high-throughput genetic sequencers acquired by ARS in 1998. These DNA analyzers are helping mappers rapidly expand their library of genetic sequences.

ARS research focuses on genes involved with resistance and susceptibility to disease in the animals as well as the genes in the microbes that allow them to infect and spread disease. By understanding both the host and the disease agent, scientists should be able to find better genetic strategies to improve animal health in the future. Information on the microbes alone will improve diagnosis. The advantage to working with microbes is that many have small genomes that can be completely sequenced in a short period of time.

ARS also works on basic genetic maps, such as the new efforts on catfish and trout, that will subsequently be used to identify genes that influence animal health. With several international collaborators, ARS researchers are also developing extensive libraries that contain sections of animal genomes. These DNA libraries allow scientists to construct a new type of physical map for livestock species that will be used to identify potential genes that affect animal health and other production traits. Comparisons with human and mouse genomes dramatically enhance researchers' ability to identify the gene and determine its function.

In addition to providing long-term federal funding to this basic research, ARS has two unique advantages for this work. First, ARS has access to large populations of pedigreed livestock that have been researched for many years, and a talented staff of personnel trained in collecting production data on these animals. Second, ARS has developed multi-disciplinary teams to conduct genomic research to address animal agricultural needs.

For more information on ARS genetic programs, visit ARS’ national program on Food Animal Production or contact any of the following:

John Bannantine or Richard Zuerner, Ames, IA - microbes

David Swayne, Athens, GA - microbes

Joan Lunney, Beltsville, MD - pigs, chickens

Melissa Ashwell, Beltsville, MD - dairy cattle

William Laegried, Clay Center, NE - cattle, pigs, sheep

Hans Cheng, East Lansing, MI - chickens

Caird Rexroad III, National Center for Cool and Coldwater Aquaculture, Leetown, WV - trout

Daniel Rock, Orient Point/Plum Island, NY - microbes

Geoff Waldbieser, Stoneville, MS - catfish

Steven Kappes, National Program Leader

Leland Ellis, Jr., National Program Leader

Research Briefs

New, ARS-developed diagnostic tests for piroplasmosis , or equine babesiosis, should eventually help horse owners ensure their animals are healthy after traveling to countries where the disease is endemic. The tickborne disease is not present in the United States.
Don Knowles
(509) 335-6022

Cooperative research between Phelps Dodge Refining Corp., El Paso, and ARS will determine whether copper sulfate can protect catfish eggs from fungi.
Billy Griffin
(870) 673-4483

Increased levels of the hormone adrenomedullin may indicate infection in cattle, goats, pigs, and sheep. The ARS discovery may lead to a test that allows producers to screen for disease stress.
Theodore Elsasser
(301) 504-8222

Feeding cattle just before sunset can reduce aggression between animals , ARS researchers found. Typically, cattle receive their main meal in the morning.
Julie Morrow-Tesch
(806) 742-2335

Algae used in a Smithsonian/ARS-designed scrubber system for cleaning cattle waste may provide a high-protein feed supplement for cattle.
Walter Mulbry
(301) 504-7976

ARS-developed antibodies to nicarbazin form the basis of a test to help protect chickens from coccidiosis. Nicarbazin is a medication added to poultry feed. The test will help ensure that chickens receive enough medication to keep them healthy but not enough to leave residues in the meat.
Ross Beier
(979) 260-9411

Research on improved fescue varieties may, in the future, protect cattle and horses from the toxic effects of fungi that live in the fescue. ARS scientists are also working on a vaccine.
John Steudemann
(706) 769-5631


Harley W. Moon, retired veterinary pathologist, was inducted into the ARS Science Hall of Fame for diagnoses, treatments, and vaccines for intestinal diseases of livestock.

J. Ralph Lichtenfels, Biosystematics and National Parasite Collection Unit, and Jitender P. Dubey, Parasite Biology and Epidemiology Laboratory, shared the Distinguished Scientist Award from the Friends of Agricultural Research- Beltsville, Inc., for outstanding research contributions.

Aly M Fadly, Avian Disease and Oncology Laboratory, was awarded the 2000 Excellence in Poultry Disease Research by the American Veterinary Medical Foundation.

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Last Modified: 2/6/2007
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