Friday, April 24, 2009

Cows decoded and exploited

Scientists recently achieved a major milestone in animal studies, sequencing the genome of a female Hereford cow. The project was a six-year effort led by 300 scientists in 25 countries. Cows now join the small group of animals whose genomes have been sequenced, which include humans, primates and rodents.

Unfortunately, this "breakthrough" is among the discoveries that seek to protect the $49 billion cattle industry of the United States. One of the authors of the paper, Ross Tellam, described the human benefits of the study saying,

"If we can see precisely what genes cause the differences between each animal, there is an opportunity to enhance selective breeding...We can use natural methods - simply selecting the best animals - to produce livestock that make more meat or more milk."

Scientists will start comparing the Hereford cow genome to those of six other breeds, with the hope of selecting traits most suited for beef and dairy production. This process of selective breeding is a common industry practice that produces turkeys who are so large they can't naturally copulate and gestation pigs who are physically immobilized from their excess weight. This could contribute to many of the other diseases industry cows already suffer from, such as mastitis, an inflammation of the udder.

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