Tail hair technology beats ‘bull-eye’ for beef producers

The way in which cattle are analyzed by determining the age of their cattle has been described as a “game change” for the Australian cattle industry.

Researchers at the University of Queensland have developed a method that uses the current real-time sequencing method to read the DNA of an animal’s tail.

Meat & Livestock Australia has funded a project supported by the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries and Producers to address a key issue affecting the beef industry in northern Australia – the inability to determine the age of each animal.

According to Professor Ben Hayes, director of the UK Center for Animal Science, herd is free to grow between annual mustard plants and the birth of individual animals is not generally recorded.

“Without age records, it is difficult to verify initial growth rates, genomic predictions are difficult to implement, and there are negative effects on herd management.”

The work is being led by UQ researcher Dr. Elizabeth Ross, using an Oxford portable DNA sequencing tool.

“The device is currently being used to provide information on animal genetic makeup,” said Dr. Ross.

However, we have found that it can be used to accurately measure the lifespan of cattle in 1.5 years.

“Using this technique, the DNA produced for the tail of an animal can be processed in all ages from five to 14 years of age.”

The herd of North Australia contains 12.5 million head of cattle and 90% of Australia’s cattle are exported.

Dr. Ross said that if approved by the manufacturers, the technology could provide both age estimates and genomic predictions from the same DNA test and is a “game changer” to improve herd performance.

“There will be profits around the board for producers, including improved herd fertility, growth rates, health and meat quality,” she said.

“The unimaginable tools will be realized in five years’ time and I am excited to be working with the mobile DNA series to help prepare the cattle industry for future challenges.”

The team is working to include hundreds of additional tail hair samples before launching the technology to conduct concept experiments on cattle stations later this year, and Dr. Lon Nguyen, who led the series, has developed protocols for many new studies.

As the creator of the genomic forecast, Professor Hayes said it was great to be able to help the Australian dairy and cattle herd achieve high productivity with this technology.

“This genetic analysis technique has shown special potential in enhancing productivity and safety,” he said.

Meat & Livestock Australia Research and Development General Manager Michael Crowley MLA said the project was supported by genomes for the red meat industry.

“Performance information and DNA collected from cattle enables genome predictions and this completes the feedback loop and ensures that industrial data can be used for sustainable genetic modification,” Mr Crowley said.

The study was published in Frontiers in Genetics.

Images are available here

Media die- Professor Ben Hayes, b.hayes@uq.edu.au+61 7 3346 2173, +61 (0) 434 210 890; Dr. Elizabeth Ross, e.ross@uq.edu.au, + 61 7 334 62162; Margaret Wells m.puls@uq.edu.au, M asc +61 (0) 419 578 356; M.L.A. Relationships Specialist Jack Johnston M: +61 (0) 427 723 308.

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