UQ animal geneticists kicking goals for cattle industry

8 June 2016

Australian cattle farming could become safer and cheaper thanks to the work of an animal genetics team at the University of Queensland.
The state-of-the-art Animal Genetics Laboratory (AGL) at the UQ School of Veterinary Science is conducting genetic tests to help the cattle industry reduce the need for dehorning.

UQ animal geneticists kicking goals for cattle industry
Some beef cattle carry two copies of the polled genes, meaning it naturally lacks horns (Photo credit: UQ)

AGL science leader Dr Russell Lyons said the lab, which was celebrating its 500,000th cattle sample, had conducted 40,000 Australian Poll gene marker tests including 12,000 tests in the past 12 months.
“The test is used to determine if an animal is ‘true polled’—that is, it carries two copies of the polled genes, meaning it naturally lacks horns,” Dr Lyons said.
“Poll testing is helping cattle breeders select the best breeding cattle for their herds and may help the industry end the painful practice of dehorning beef cattle through breeding hornless cattle.
“Beef producers dehorn cattle to prevent significant injuries to other animals and handlers in yards, feedlots and during transportation.
“Breeding polled or hornless cattle means we can reduce the need for dehorning.”
Dr Lyons said 90 per cent of the laboratory’s work was for the livestock industry, but the lab covered a diverse range of species, including other farmed animals, the aquaculture industry, fisheries and wildlife ecology groups.
“We’ve genotyped goats, alpacas, koalas, tiger sharks, sugar gliders, dugongs, crocodiles, humpback whales and salmon, and our 500,000th sample was from a wagyu beef animal,” the UQ veterinary science researcher said.
“We’ve stored our samples—predominantly hair—since our foundation 23 years ago, resulting in a uniquely Australian cattle library.
“Our clients are from throughout Australia, New Zealand, South America and even Kazakhstan, where our research is helping build capacity in their beef industry using Australian Angus cattle.
“We’ve also been able to assist the dairy industry in identifying genes for factors such as strong milk production and growth rates.”
Dr Lyon’s said the lab had also undertaken genetic tests to help police in cattle theft cases and had received a Queensland Police Service silver award for such work.
Dr Lyons said research was an important component of AGL’s charter to boost the competitiveness and profitability of Australian livestock industries and agricultural communities.
“With a highly skilled multidisciplinary team and state-of-the-art technology, we believe AGL will continue to provide world-class services tailored to our customers’ needs,” he said.
The Australian Poll gene marker tests build on previous research by UQ, CSIRO and University of New England.

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