Two MU researchers win USDA award

Saturday, July 31, 2010 | 6:45 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — With the recent invention of an inexpensive genetic device that evaluates merit in cattle, two MU researchers from the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources have been awarded a 2010 U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary’s Honor Award.

Jerry Taylor, professor and Wurdack Chair in Animal Genomics, and Robert Schnabel, research assistant professor, were members of a cattle genomics consortium that developed the BovineSNP50 BeadChip to identify DNA markers for important traits in livestock, such as reproduction, growth, disease resistance and amount of milk production.

“I am very excited to receive this award; it is an enormous honor,” Taylor said.  “This award is considered the most prestigious given by the USDA and is vindication of the team’s hard work, by taking their idea and adopting it for an entire universal industry.”

After extracting the cattle's DNA and processing it with the SNP chip, it is placed into a scanner that reads more than 54,000 genome positions.

"By using this technology, we can pin down certain variables of a specific trait for breeding purposes," Taylor said.

Developing the SNP chip, pronounced "snip chip," took two years, and was put on the market in spring 2009. Since then, much of the dairy industry has been using the chip to determine its cattle’s genetic merit.

“Nine countries, including the U.S., have implemented the chip into their dairy cattle industry, and it has proven to be very beneficial for their economy,” Taylor said.

Taylor said that before the SNP chip, determining a cattle’s genetic merit was based on a five-year progeny test. The chip has shortened the process of finding the genetic variable of a specific trait by four years.

“Dairy produced has doubled, and unlike before, we can find out about the cow’s value when it is a calf and not have to wait until it is older.”

The bovine chip was the first chip that determined genetic merit in livestock, Taylor said. Taylor is currently investigating genomic positions of important genes in cattle cross-breeds.

Funding for the SNP chip project came from USDA’s Cooperative State Research, MU Education and Extension Service, Agricultural Research Service and industry partners.

On Tuesday, Taylor and Schnabel are scheduled to be in Washington to acceptthe award from the USDA’s Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack.

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