A Buša photographed on a high plain near Dubrovnik, Croatia. (Photo: Jelena Ramljak)
A Buša photographed on a high plain near Dubrovnik, Croatia.

Bovine genetics show startling diversity of Busa cattle

Breed's conservation key to efforts to maintain global genetic and functional diversity of modern cattle.

In a study of the genetic structure and population dynamics of a unique breed of cattle that is indigenous to southeastern Europe, researchers with Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet (LMU) in Munich, Germany, have discovered a remarkable degree of genetic variation.

The Buša breed is a threatened autochthonous (indigenous) strain of cattle found in southeastern Europe. The remaining herds are small and widely separated from each other throughout the Balkans region.

A team led by Dr. Ivica Medugorac, who heads the Population Genomics Group of the LMU department of veterinary sciences, has now explored the range of genetic diversity within the surviving Buša herds and compared it with other European breeds. The findings appear in the journal Molecular Ecology.

In collaboration with colleagues in southeastern Europe, Medugorac analyzed DNA samples from 1,828 cattle representing 60 different European breeds and strains. The samples obtained from 350 Buša cattle from seven Balkan countries were subjected to genome-wide genotyping for single-nucleotide polymorphisms and were found to represent 14 distinct strains that, together, comprised a single metapopulation. Indeed, the genetic analyses revealed that Buša cattle account for a significant proportion of the neutral (non-selected) genetic diversity found within the Bos taurus species worldwide.

"Buša cattle are unique. They have undergone very little artificial selection and are, therefore, very valuable for sustainable breeding programs. Their conservation is of great significance for efforts to maintain the global genetic and functional diversity of cattle," Medugorac said.

In contrast to modern European breeds, Buša cattle are small, hardy, fertile and very well adapted to the mountainous terrain in which they originated. In southeastern Europe, they are used extensively as sources of milk and meat and also had served as draft animals in earlier times.

In the new study, the researchers outlined a concept for an international action program to conserve the Buša breed. However, the model can also be applied to other domesticated animals as well as to populations kept in captivity or under otherwise controlled conditions.

The study is part of the SAVE Foundation's BushaLive project, which is supported by the U.N. Food & Agricultural Organization.

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