ONGOING cutting-edge research using DNA from the tail hair of cattle to nail down genetic makeup has yielded an additional find with the potential to pay big dividends in the northern beef industry.
The real-time sequencing can also determine the age of the animal and scientists hope to fine-tune that to within a couple of months.
University of Queensland researchers have developed the age-reading method that uses an existing sequencing device and say it has the ability to address a core issue affecting production efficiency.
Because many northern herds are only mustered annually, exact births of individual animals are not known.
UQ Centre for Animal Science director Professor Ben Hayes said that makes it difficult to establish the baseline growth rates, apply genomic predictions and there were also adverse impacts on herd management.
The age-reading work has been led by UQ Research Fellow Dr Elizabeth Ross using an Oxford-developed portable DNA sequencing device called MinION.
The DNA extracted from the animal’s tail hair using this method works across all ages in a herd, from five days to 14 years.
Dr Ross said if adopted by producers, the technology could deliver both the age estimate and genomic predictions from the same DNA test.
“There’ll be gains across the board for producers including improved herd fertility, growth rates, health and meat traits,” she said.
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The team is now working to include hundreds more tail hair samples before taking the technology for proof-of-concept trials on cattle stations later this year.
The plan was these tools will be a commercial reality within five years.
Prof Hayes said the longer-term vision would be for producers to be conducting crush side DNA testing and making decisions on-the-spot such as ‘this heifer was born early in the season so we’ll mate her’ or ‘this animal will be culled’.
In the short-term, it would be likely uptake of the technology would start via a consultant, he said.
Prof Hayes said this form of genetic analysis had proved exceptionally powerful at driving up important productivity and welfare traits.
The age-reading project was funded by Meat & Livestock Australia, with support from the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries and producers.
The study is published in Frontiers in Genetics.
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