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ARS Home » Plains Area » Clay Center, Nebraska » U.S. Meat Animal Research Center » Genetics, Breeding, and Animal Health Research » People » Michael Heaton

Michael P Heaton (Mike)

Research Microbiologist

Infectious diseases in livestock are a significant source of economic loss and represent a potential risk to human health.  Removing animals with the highest risk of disease from the production cycle will lead to improved herd health and food safety.


The ultimate goal of livestock genomics with regard to animal health is to read an animal's DNA sequence and estimate its risk of acquiring or maintaining infections.  Our immediate aim is to evaluate natural genetic variation in diverse populations and identify alleles that predispose livestock to infectious diseases.  


Before this can be accomplished, two key issues need to be addressed:  

  1. Identification of nucleotide sequence variation in host genes that play a fundamental role in the infection process.
  2. Identification of gene haplotypes that are associated with susceptibility or resistance to infectious disease. 

Health traits of interest include:

  • Bovine respiratory disease complex (shipping fever)
  • Bovine viral diarrhea
  • Pulmonary hypertension (brisket disease) in cattle
  • Failure of passive transfer in cattle
  • Ovine progressive pneumonia
  • Scrapie susceptibility in sheep

Our research is designed to address these issues in commercial populations of livestock.  As these objectives are achieved for selected candidate genes, new information and technology will be developed that will facilitate our ability to estimate an animal's risk of acquiring or maintaining infections.