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Unlocking cattle growth - Husker scientists dive into genetic efficiency
Nebraska Ag Connection - 09/22/2023

Scientists at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln are conducting a federal study on cattle growth and genetics, focusing on cattle's mitochondria, the powerhouse of cells that drive the body's energy. The initiative, led by Husker, aims to change breeders' overlooking of mitochondrial genome information.

Jessica Petersen, a leading researcher, highlights the potential. "Mitochondrial genotype can be a game-changer. Efficient cows with the right genotype can birth calves with the same efficiency." A modest 1% boost in feed efficiency could save the U.S. cattle industry over $11 million annually.

This is not just about the feedlot sector. Both feedlot and cow-calf operations, where feed is the major cost, stand to gain.

So far, breeding has concentrated mainly on bulls. But the importance of cows, especially when mitochondrial DNA (inherited solely from mothers) is central to energy production, is undeniable. Petersen believes there's a missed chance here, "It's a golden opportunity to select even better cattle."

For the project's three years, the team will analyze the genetic data of about 1,500 steers. The University's cattle will be the focal point since they undergo rigorous genetic checks, including measuring individual food intake and weight gain.

The project involves applying genomic studies on fruit flies to beef cattle, a challenging yet exciting task, according to Petersen.

Future research focuses on understanding the interaction between the mitochondrial genome and proteins in cattle cells, which could lead to improved cattle genomes, potentially improving their quality.

Support for this pioneering work comes from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's research initiative. The study not only promises to shed light on cattle genetics but also has immense implications for the agricultural sector's economy.

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