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Australian scientists unlock genetics of height in cattle

Staff Writer |
Scientists have discovered that tall cows have a lot in common with tall people.

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Agriculture Victoria scientists have again attracted global attention for world-leading work in cattle genetics, with the recent publication of a paper in the prestigious journal Nature Genetics.

The paper, titled 'Meta-analysis of genome-wide association studies for cattle stature identifies common genes that regulate body size in mammals', is the world's largest-scale study into the genetic basis for body size in cattle.

The research has revealed that body stature in cattle is controlled by thousands of genes, and that some of the key genes are the same as those that control height in humans.

Agriculture Victoria researcher Dr Hans Daetwyler said the finding was significant in extending understanding of the bovine genome.

"In Australia, we already have a system in place for sophisticated cattle genetics. In recent years, we have improved the reliability of breeding values for dairy cattle, and implemented complex traits including fertility and heat tolerance," Dr Daetwyler said.

"Height is a well-studied and complex trait in genetics. However, this research is the largest-scale study to investigate the genetic basis for height, or body stature, in cattle.

"In some mammals, height is regulated by variants in a small number of genes. However, this research found that the genetic architecture of stature in cattle is similar to that of humans, with variants in thousands of genes – and substantially the same set of genes.

"Potentially, this work has far-reaching implications. It provides a better understanding of complex bovine traits, and it also suggests that studying bovine genetics could help us better understand human genetics and the inheritance of complex traits."

The research was undertaken as part of the 1000 Bull Genomes Consortium project – an international collaboration of 36 partner institutions that has sequenced 2700 entire bull genomes since 2012, including key ancestors of the Australian dairy herd.

Scientists undertook meta-analysis for stature using more than 58,000 cattle from 17 dairy and beef populations, with 25.4 million imputed whole genome sequence variants.

Agriculture Victoria scientists at the AgriBio Centre for AgriBioscience in Bundoora, Victoria substantially contributed to the analysis, using AgriBio's next generation sequencing and advanced scientific computing capabilities.

The project was led by Professor Ben Hayes of Agriculture Victoria and the University of Queensland, and funded by the DairyBio joint venture between the Victorian Government and Dairy Australia, along with funding at consortium partners.

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