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Exploring the bovine genome


Using a new set of preliminary sequencing data on the cow genome, a US life sciences company is joining forces with an agribusiness conglomerate on a project that aims to discover a range of markers for important genetic traits of cattle.

The project was announced on June 11 by MetaMorphix Inc. of Savage, Maryland. The company acquired preliminary (1x) coverage of the cow genome as well as a map of 600,000 cow single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), when it purchased the animal genomics and genotyping business of Celera Genomics of Rockville, Maryland in March. Celera retains a minority business interest in MetaMorphix.

Using the preliminary map of likely bovine SNPs, MetaMorphix's genomics division, MMI Genomics in Davis, California, is working with two cattle subsidiaries of the international agribusiness company Cargill to develop a physical map that covers the entire cow genome and also to locate genetic markers associated with cattle traits.

"We've taken a different approach than the public projects that are looking into the bovine genome," says Sue Denise, the research and development director of MMI Genomics (formerly the AgGen division of Celera). "With this initial sequencing on a substantial amount of the bovine genome, we plan to go through the SNPs and identify important markers over the next two years."

While the cow genome data from the MetaMorphix project are proprietary, separate public efforts are moving forward to sequence and analyze the bovine genome. The US National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) is considering a proposal to sequence cow, but the plan must win approval over competing proposals to sequence other 'large' mammals, such as dog, cat and pig.

Meanwhile, an international consortium of publicly funded scientists from the United States, France and Canada began work this spring on a $2.5 million project to create a sequence-ready BAC (bacterial artificial chromosome) map that would be anchored to the human genome map by key reference points. The goal is to set the stage for the rapid and efficient sequencing of the bovine genome.

The project is led by Steve Kappes of the US Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service in Clay Center, Nebraska, and by Harris Lewin, a professor of animal sciences who directs the University of Illinois' W.M. Keck Center for Comparative and Functional Genomics.

In the project's first stage, about 280,000 clones of a BAC library produced by a California laboratory will be genetically 'fingerprinted' by a Canadian group. Then Lewin's team in Illinois and collaborators at The Institute for Genomic Research in Rockville, Maryland, will sequence the ends of at least 100,000 fingerprinted BAC clones. The results will be merged with the BAC fingerprints to create the sequence-ready map.

At the same time, a group led by Mark Band, director of the functional genomics unit at the Keck Center in Illinois, is working to discover the functions of important bovine genes and to construct a comparative map of the cattle and human genomes. "The main goal is to find the genetic basis of phenotypic traits in cattle," says Band, noting that the bovine genome is about the same size (about 3 billion base pairs) as the human genome.

Officials at MetaMorphix predict that sequencing the cattle genome will lead to the development of diagnostic and therapeutic technologies that, in turn, would be used in industries associated with cattle breeding and health.

The chief executive and chairman of MetaMorphix, Ed Quattlebaum, is quoted as saying: "We are now actively developing commercial applications and technologies based on the [bovine] genome and its map to benefit cattle production and health and, ultimately, human nutrition."

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International consortium to create sequence-ready map of the cattle genome. Press release, News Bureau, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Champaign, Illinois (March 12, 2002).
MetaMorphix signs deal to develop genetic selection tool using cattle genome. Press release, Cargill, Minneapolis, Minnesota (June 11, 2002).

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