[Note: this story has been modified since its original posting to correct errors.]
MU received a donation of intellectual property Friday valued at $5.6 million, but many experts consider it priceless.
Chancellor Richard Wallace announced that the Dave Gust family, who owns Circle A Ranch, has donated what is thought to be the world’s most complete set of livestock production data and matching DNA samples from approximately 6,000 cattle to the “For All We Call Mizzou” fund-raising campaign.
“Rare indeed is it for the university to receive a gift that will serve so may purposes so wonderfully well,” Wallace said. “It will enhance the science being studied here and developed here at MU and will, of course, directly lead to benefits for consumers not only in this state, but around the world.”
Currently, only two other groups — a USDA research center in Nebraska and the Australian Beef Cooperative Research Center in Australia — have similar information.
Greg Horstmeier, spokesman for the MU College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources, describes the donation as the equivalent of Coca-Cola turning over its recipe to MU to determine what makes the product so popular, and then allowing the university to share that information with the world.
The Gusts started their Angus cattle business in 1990 with 35 cows. In 1993, with the fall breeding, they began to track data on individual animals.
“It’s like collecting anything else,” said Dave Gust. “You start collecting it and someday find a use for it.”
Gust said they donated the database because in order to be beneficial to consumers and breeders, the information needs to be examined by experts.
“(MU’s) got the best shot in the world of going further with this,” Gust said.
Circle A has tracked, from birth to death, the family history, food intake, weight change, health and quality of meat produced by its animals. The nearly 17 megabytes of data provide an individualized record of performance for some 6,000 Angus cattle. The data includes pedigrees, birth information and weight gain for all the animals, as well as daily feed intake and carcass data for some animals.
“This is a resource that I believe that no other university in the world can match,” said Jerry Taylor, an MU professor of genetics and animal science.
The information will be used by Taylor to identify genes and gene sequences that determine valuable traits in cattle, which can help livestock breeders produce a higher quality of meat and milk at a lower cost. These traits include high feed-meat conversion efficiency and ideal fat-to-lean ratios.
Currently, it can take up to five years to determine whether an animal is of the highest quality. The five-year process begins with the breeding of an animal and continues until the animal is slaughtered. Only after the animal is slaughtered is it possible to determine the profitability of the product.
“We believe that with the resources we have available here at the University of Missouri that within a fairly short time span — within about two years — we’ll actually know the location and the identity of a large number of genes that cause cattle to have significant differences in value,” Taylor said.
Once the desirable genes are identified, breeders will be able to test their cattle at birth and know whether an animal will produce high-quality meat. By identifying profitable animals early in the process, breeders can make cost-based decisions about what to feed their animals.
Ultimately, this information could allow breeders to selectively mate bulls and cows that exhibit profitable traits, leading to a higher rate of success with offspring.
“We really believe that that knowledge is going to be incredibly valuable both to breeders who want to try to change characteristics of cattle, such as Circle A Ranch, but also people that want to manage cattle according to their genetic attributes and market them appropriately,” Taylor said.