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Herding Cash for the Cow Genome
By Kate Dalke

Texas is the cash cow for genome researchers. With new money from the Lone Star State, New Zealand and Australia, the cow genome could join humans, mice, and others in the ranks of sequenced species.

Earlier this month, Texas Governor Rick Perry pledged $10 million towards the research. If the project goes forward, the money will come right back to the state because two Texas universities are spearheading the sequencing effort—Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and Texas A & M in College Station.

A consortium of New Zealand companies recently promised $1 million for the cow genome, hoping the sequence will improve two major industries in their country—dairy and meat. An Australian research organization also pledged $1 million.

The new funds come in response to an announcement by the U.S. National Institutes of Health that the cow would be sequenced as long as enough money is raised. The NIH will put in $25 million if the other half is raised from outside sources.

“The cow got high priority for sequencing, but the NIH expects matching funds. And that’s perfectly reasonable,” says James Womack of Texas A & M, who is one of the authors of a white paper on why the cow genome should be sequenced.

Fundraising for the bovine genome has become urgent because the cow genome project does not want to lose its spot to other organisms in the NIH sequencing pipeline.

Before last week, “it looked like we were going to lose this window of opportunity because there was no money on the table,” Womack says.

“The Texas money really kept the project alive,” says Kellye Eversole, director of the Alliance for Genome Research—an organization that raises money for sequencing domesticated animals like the cow, chicken and cat as they compete with other organisms for sequencing priority.

“Without the matching money, the project would have just been shelved,” says Eversole.

The matching funds required for the cow have not so far been required for any other organisms in the sequencing pipeline. Organisms like the dog and pig are considered more biomedically relevant.

The New Zealand consortium that donated $1 million includes companies in both the beef and dairy industry: AgResearch, Agritech Investments Limited and Dairy Insight Incorporated. The Australian money was pledged by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization.

With $12 million secured from Texas, New Zealand and Australia, the cow genome project needs another $13 million from other sources. Cow genome advocates have their eyes on the US Department of Agriculture, the cattle industry, and the International Bovine BAC Consortium, which includes researchers from Australia, Canada, Brazil and the UK.

Scientists will use the cow sequence to study reproduction and cloning in both cows and humans. They also want to find cow genes involved in fighting infectious diseases that affect both humans and cows like tuberculosis and African sleeping sickness.

The beef industry hopes to find genes for meat tenderness and for certain genetic diseases in cows.

Cow DNA could enter sequencing machines as early as this summer. With a little luck and more fundraising, the cow genome project won’t be put out to pasture.

See related GNN articles
»Exploring the Bovine Genome
»Cloned Cows Produce High-Protein Milk

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