16 February 1996

Roslin hunts genes that beef-up profits

By Rebecca Austin

RESEARCHERS at the Roslin Institute, Edinburgh, are on the hunt for the genes responsible for economic performance.

The team is in the process of setting up a herd of Charolais and Holstein Friesian cows to help with the search and they have already identified 1000 markers on the beef chromosome. The next stage is to find which genes are sighted near specific markers.

To do this the herd will be measured for growth, feed intake, health, welfare, milk production and carcass quality. Beef and milk breeds will be cross-bred to emphasis which traits are more predominant in each breed.

Eventually it will be possible to see, for example, that high yielding cows carry the same markers on their chromosomes. This will indicate the gene for milkiness is positioned close to that marker. The same theory holds for lean beef cows and for any recorded trait. In two years the technique will be available commercially at a cost of £30 a blood test, says project researcher Dr John Woolliams. Producers will eventually be able to blood-test stock to see whether that animal carries a gene for lameness, leanness or high milk protein. &#8226 Funding has been secured for three years from the MDC, MLC and MAFF. &#42

Dr John Woolliams… Keen to pinpoint the genes for economic performance.