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Emerging Technologies Committee

Genetics of Heifer Fertility

by Troy Smith for Angus Productions Inc.

COLUMBIA, Mo. (June 30, 2010) — It’s costly to put replacement females into a cow herd. Ideally, a replacement candidate will conceive in timely fashion the first time and every time thereafter for a good many years. But some females seem to have an advantage in reproductive performance compared to their contemporaries.

Milt ThomasMilt ThomasUniversity of New Mexico researcher Milt Thomas and his collaborating colleagues want to find out why some cows have a genetic advantage. During the 2010 Beef Improvement Federation (BIF) Research Symposium break-out session addressing emerging technologies, Thomas talked about ongoing studies to identify genes responsible for expression or suppression of fertility traits.

“The long-term goal is to understand in detail the genetic pathways regulating reproductive performance in beef cattle, with the intent of developing genetic improvement programs for fertility,” Thomas said.

The project involves collection of data and DNA from herds representing different environments and production systems. As a start, Texas-based Camp Cooley Ranch allowed access to its database and DNA resources for the study. Data and DNA from more than 800 Brangus heifers, representing multiple sires, have been used to initiate discovery of genes and gene markers that influence reproductive performance. Researchers are using the 50,000 single-nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) technology to identify regions of influence across the 30 bovine chromosomes.

“We’ve discovered ‘hot spots’ (regions likely associated with multiple genes) that regulate traits like yearling heifer pregnancy rate and first-service conception rate,” Thomas explained.

The same genotypes are being used to investigate genetic regulation of first-calf heifer rebreeding rate. Project plans call for validation of all findings with data and DNA from an additional 10,000 females from various other collaborative sources. Thomas said there is much work still ahead, but the project’s ultimate goal is development of marker-assisted selection tools to help producers identify replacement female candidates with higher levels of fertility.

Editor’s Note: This summary was written under contract or by staff of Angus Productions Inc. (API). Through an agreement with the Beef Improvement Federation, we are encouraging reprinting of the articles to those who will adhere to the reprint guidelines available on this site. Please review those guidelines or contact Shauna Rose Hermel, editor, at 816-383-5270. PowerPoints are posted with permission of the presenter and may not be reproduced in whole or in part without the express permission of the presenter.

API's coverage of the event is made possible through collaboration with BIF and sponsorship by BioZyme Inc. through its significant gift to the Angus Foundation. For questions about this site, or to notify us of broken links, click here.

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