subject: DNA

Fighting the Resistome

Fighting the Resistome

We are incredibly lucky. We live at a time when antibiotics work their magic saving people from infections. Only a few generations ago, infections reigned supreme and struck down some people in most families. It had always been that way, but memory quickly fades. Modern society assumes that the effectiveness of antibiotics is here to stay—it’s a monument to human ingenuity. However, the continuing emergence of antibiotic-resistant microbes and the lack of new antibiotics in the developmental cupboard are looming threats to human health, and a stark reminder that today’s respite from infection could easily be temporary. Read More...

Dairy Cattle Resistant to Tuberculosis

Dairy Cattle Resistant to Tuberculosis

Infectious diseases are not conquered, but sometimes that’s our perception. The infectious microbial agents patiently await the right opportunity occurring at the intersection of multiple circumstances. Their unpredictability is their modus operandi, which often amplifies their adverse impacts. Read More...

Discovery of “Dark Matter” in Livestock Genomes

Discovery of “Dark Matter” in Livestock Genomes

Paradoxes are uncomfortable. They remind us of how little we understand. Worse, it sometimes seems the more we know, the less we understand, and that’s a bitter-sweet paradox in itself. Nowhere are paradoxes more apparent than in our understanding of life, and in particular the scientific understanding of the encyclopedia of life—the genome present in every living cell. Many scientists conclude that without understanding these genomic paradoxes, humans cannot fully exploit the amazing potential of genetics to improve human health and enhance the efficiencies of livestock production systems. The latter occurs primarily through DNA marker-assisted selective breeding of livestock. This process exploits the genetic (DNA) variations present in a large population of a livestock species to help select for the high-performing animals that then go into breeding programs. The aim is to improve animal productivity in each generation. It’s a little like how a savings account grows with each year of interest. Read More...

Dairy Pastoralism in Mongolia Began at Least 3,300 Years Ago

Dairy Pastoralism in Mongolia Began at Least 3,300 Years Ago

People have been migrating since the dawn of human existence. It’s in our nature to survive and that drove generations of ancient humans to walk to nearly all corners of the world. The history of human migration is inscribed in detail within the DNA code of modern-day people. It is a fantastic book to read, full of drama and intrigue. One chapter contains descriptions of an ancient population migration into Europe that resulted in major cultural changes. Scientists recently concluded that the Eurasian steppe was the ancient cradle for today’s European populations and it was also one of the primary origins of dairy pastoralism. How and why ancient Eurasian populations migrated into Europe are being revealed by scientists using new technologies that trace massive ancient population migrations, changes in diets, and the movement of dairy pastoralism beginning about 4,500 years ago. The scientists along the way have answered one of the most debated questions of history. How did new ideas, especially knowledge of dairying, spread in ancient populations? Was it due to population migration and then replacement of indigenous populations or the adoption of new ideas taken from neighbors? The answer is both, but in different places. Read More...

Measuring Inbreeding Balances Efficient Selection with Sustainable and Healthy Herds

Measuring Inbreeding Balances Efficient Selection with Sustainable and Healthy Herds

Selective breeding has been used for many centuries—initially in a crude form by early farmers, but today using highly sophisticated genome analysis and complex algorithms. However, the goals have remained the same: to improve the efficiency of dairy production. This translates into breeding the healthiest, most productive cows suitable for the appropriate farming system and environment. New technologies have provided the capability to monitor the changes that occur with selection in great detail. Two recent papers explored the most effective methods to accomplish this and investigated changes in North American Holstein and South American Gyr dairy cattle. Read More...

Family Trio Sings for Genomic Supper

Family Trio Sings for Genomic Supper

Solving a giant crossword puzzle and completely sequencing a genome have a lot in common, including despair and satisfaction. The puzzle just requires the assembly of all components into the one correct pattern. The first 90% is fast and furious. One’s confidence grows as the unique solution becomes tantalizingly close. Satisfaction seemingly guaranteed. But then, the last 10% rears its ugly head and frustratingly devours time and confidence. “I can’t get no satisfaction”—the plaintive words of Mick Jagger mercilessly resonant. The stark realization is depressing. Most of the puzzle is correct, but there must be an error somewhere. But it’s hard to go back. The inevitable outcome is to accept something that is mainly correct and move on—“you can’t always get what you want.” However, all is not lost. Koren and nine colleagues recently developed a very smart solution for completing the genomic puzzle with much lower error rates. They used a genomic trio of mom, dad, and one offspring for maximal effect and then tested their method in three species. The results were impressive, particularly for the cow. Read More...

Genomic Selection Accelerates Improvements in Health and Productivity of Dairy Cows

Genomic Selection Accelerates Improvements in Health and Productivity of Dairy Cows

The introduction of genomic selection into dairy cattle selective breeding programs has been greatly anticipated and is a remarkable example of the benefits of genomic technology. Made possible because the systems for selective breeding were already well developed in dairy, and the widespread use of artificial insemination meant that new developments could be delivered quickly. First introduced in the USA in 2008, there has now been sufficient time to generate enough data to assess its impact. Read More...

Breastfeeding Protects Women Against Cancer

Breastfeeding Protects Women Against Cancer

Cancer cure or prevention? An enormous amount of research and funding is channeled into finding a cure for cancer, yet less attention is paid to factors that prevent it. Certainly, there is not one magical practice to prevent cancer, as research shows that our cancer risk is influenced by many factors, one of which is breastfeeding. Read More...

Ancient Aurochs Genome Contains the DNA Blueprint for Modern Cattle

Ancient Aurochs Genome Contains the DNA Blueprint for Modern Cattle

A preserved specimen of aurochs bone was discovered deep beneath the Derbyshire Dales in the UK in the 1990s. Aurochs are an ancient cattle breed domesticated around 10,000 years ago somewhere around modern day Iran. In Europe, the last of these animals were still found on a Polish royal reserve as recently as the 17th century. Park et al., have now extracted enough DNA from the ancient bone specimen to sequence the aurochs genome. When they compared the aurochs sequence to the DNA of cattle breeds we know and use in domestic agriculture today, they found a surprisingly high level in common with British and Irish cattle. Read More...

Accounting for Lactase Mutants

Accounting for Lactase Mutants

Back in the 50s and 60s, work on lactose intolerance was often published under cringeworthy and blunt racial titles. A Nature article from 1969 sums it up with ‘Can Asians Digest Milk?’ It was also probably a subliminal non-accident that ‘lactose intolerance’—which is the typical condition for adult humans—became common parlance for a trait for which those with northern European ancestry are the real mutants. Many decades on, the genetic basis of the ability to digest lactose has been largely pinned down. As it turns out, there are different genetic reasons for the mutants’ lactose tolerance in the various populations that drink milk without intestinal incident, and the gene that confers mutant power in Europeans is only part of the story. That research history is discussed below, along with recent work that has extended the field’s reach beyond genetics. Investigations of the transcontinental basis of lactose tolerance are now providing insights into mankind’s cultural, as well as biological evolution. Read More...

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