The Human Genome Project accelerated the discovery of disease genes in humans, provided a new paradigm for medical research, and opened doors to analyze the genomes of various livestock. The Livestock Genome Sequencing Initiative, funded by USDA and led by University of Illinois, represented a new wave of livestock research by applying comparative genomics and other advanced technologies to rapidly identify genes that affect animal health. The initiative sequenced genes in dairy and beef cattle, sheep, and pigs to identify genetic disease traits.
For example, genome sequencing has helped the Angus cattle industry identify and reduce incidence of a lethal genetic defect, Neuropathic Hydrocephalus (NH), which results in stillborn calves, with extremely large craniums and little or no brain or spinal cords.
Researchers at the University of Illinois, in collaboration with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln have identified the gene mutation responsible for NH, which is caused by a recessive mutation at a distinct location on a single chromosome. Tests using Angus hair follicles, blood, or semen samples have subsequently been commercialized by private sector animal health companies. This has created new diagnostic tools for breeders to identify carriers of genetic defects and reduce the incidence of NH disease in herds.
With comparative genomics and other advanced technologies, livestock research can identify many more genes responsible for disease and production traits. This is helping ranchers reduce livestock losses, improve animal health, and strengthen their bottom lines.