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USDA Scientists Complete Genetics Project

By Ben Hardin
January 4, 2001

Agricultural Research Service scientists have completed a pilot project to decipher segments of cattle and swine genes, paving the way for technologies that will help livestock breeders quickly and accurately identify animals with superior qualities. The research also may advance biomedicine.

The scientists at the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center (MARC) deciphered sequence information on 80,000 DNA segments called expressed sequence tags (ESTs) from cattle and 40,000 from swine. All this information now is accessible through the databases at the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), from where researchers worldwide can access the data for research in medicine as well as animal science.

Even before the livestock pilot project was completed, scientists with the not-for-profit Institute for Genomic Research (TIGR) began to perform additional analysis on the sequence information along with data from the human genome project to predict the function of many related livestock and human genes.

The MARC scientists produced clonal “libraries” of expressed genes from a variety of tissues important to livestock growth, composition, reproduction, animal health and food safety. These libraries will soon be made available to other researchers through the BACPAC Resources Center at the Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute, Oakland, Calif. The cattle and swine ESTs, which the ARS scientists deciphered, in essence represent significant parts of genes that determine the proteins produced by certain tissues such as muscle, ovary and hormone-producing glands.

Each of many genes may have a small impact on an inherited trait, but when added together they may have great economic importance for the livestock industry. For that reason, ARS scientists and genomics companies are working together under Cooperative Research and Development Agreements (CRADAs) and Specific Cooperative Agreements to develop technologies such as microarrays. Also called gene chips, microarrays can be used to monitor activity of thousands of genes in a single experiment.

ARS is the chief scientific research agency in the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Scientific contact: Timothy P. Smith, ARS Roman L. Hruska U.S. Meat Animal Research Center, Clay Center, Neb.; phone (402) 762-4366, fax (402) 762-4390,