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Do We Raise Cattle or Bugs?

Exploring symbiotic relationships between cattle and microbes.

by Troy Smith, field editor, for Angus Journal®

OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. (June 14, 2013) — Stepping to the microphone and telling his audience they were less than 100% human was geneticist Andrew Benson’s way of explaining how microbes make up a significant portion of the human body. It’s much the same for a bovine animal.

A University of Nebraska researcher, Benson addressed the Beef Improvement Federation Research Symposium and Convention, in Oklahoma City to explain new research of microorganisms that contribute to many body functions of beef cattle. Benson said the “microbiome” is another genetic component that was revealed by gene-sequencing research.


Researchers are trying to discover if there is genetic control of the composition of microbe populations and how their roles in body functions might influence the expression of economically important traits of beef animals. Ultimately, they want to know if microbe composition could be influenced through genetic selection.


Benson explained that microbiomes of interest include those residing in the rumen and potentially influencing feed efficiency. Colon microbes could influence disease reistance. Those associated with the mouth and pharynx may be associated with bovine respiratory disease susceptibility, and microbes within the udder could play roles in susceptibility or resistance to mastitis.


“We’d like to know, for example, how genetics influence the presence of shiga toxin-producing E.coli bacteria or other organisms like salmonella and campylobacter,” said Benson, noting potential implications for food safety.


According to Benson, the research has already shown that cattle diets can have a major effect on composition of microbe populations in the colon. Studies will also seek to discover any interactions between diet and genetics that may influence microbiome make-up.


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.

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Headquartered in Saint Joseph, Mo., API publishes the Angus Journal, the Angus Beef Bulletin, the Angus Beef Bulletin EXTRA, and the Angus Journal Daily, as well as providing online coverage of events and topics pertinent to cattlemen through the Angus Journal Virtual Library.  

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