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USDA Grant Supports Genomic Approach to Preventing Infections in Dairy Cattle

By Maryland Today Staff

With consumer trends moving toward antibiotic-free animal agriculture, selecting disease-resistant livestock has become a priority for both animal welfare and production. Now, a $500,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture will help researchers led by Li Ma, an associate professor of animal and avian sciences, analyze millions of cattle breeding records to identify genes and underlying mechanisms for disease resistance in dairy cattle.

The multi-institutional team, which also includes animal and avian sciences Associate Professor Zhengguo Xiao and researchers from North Carolina State University, the Council on Dairy Cattle Breeding (CDCB), the University of Missouri and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, will focus on diseases including mastitis that cost the dairy industry $230 million each year. The partnership between academia, the dairy industry and the federal government capitalizes on the wealth of data held by the CDCB to fight cattle diseases in ways that haven’t been possible with smaller datasets used in earlier studies.

“If we can use this large dataset to extract health traits and identify genes related to disease resistance, when a producer selects a sire or a cow for breeding, they can use information about health and not just focus on milk production and yield,” Ma said. “This can create animals that are not only high producers, but also disease-resistant.”

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