New genetic test targets bovine congestive heart failure

Test may help inform breeding and management decisions to reduce BCHF, an untreatable, fatal condition prevalent in feedlot cattle.

January 13, 2020

3 Min Read
Cattle in Nebraska feedlot
CAPACITY CONSTRAINTS: Expanding beef processing capacity today may be fixing yesterday's problem as cattle cycle turns to lower production. DarcyMaulsby/iStock/Thinkstock.

A team of researchers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Meat Animal Research Center (USMARC) in Clay Center, Neb., and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln have identified two major genes associated with bovine congestive heart failure (BCHF) in beef feedlot cattle. This study is the first to confirm genetic risk factors associated with BCHF.

Collaborating with scientists from MatMaCorp, a developer of diagnostic systems for science, agriculture and medicine, this information was rapidly translated into a genetic test that is already being used to inform selective breeding and animal health management, according to an announcement from MatMaCorp.

The research was presented Jan. 13 at International Plant & Animal Genome XXVIII conference taking place in San Diego, Cal.

BCHF involves pulmonary hypertension that culminates in right ventricular failure and eventually death. For some producers, BCHF is the single most costly health-related problem, with losses exceeding $250,000 annually in individual operations, surpassing those from bovine respiratory disease, MatMaCorp said.

“Reducing the impact of BCHF is a high priority for the cattle industry,” said Dr. Brian Vander Ley, assistant professor and veterinary epidemiologist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and co-principal investigator on the project. “One of our aims is to develop a genetic test for BCHF to help manage this disease and improve animal health and well-being.”

According to the announcement, mitigating BCHF will have a positive impact on beef feedlot cattle, especially in the western Great Plains of North America, where the condition is more prevalent.

MatMaCorp said samples of 102 BCHF cases and 102 unaffected matched pen mates were used in a genome-wide association study, which revealed 21 genomic regions highly associated with BCHF. Regions with the strongest association included the arresting domain-containing 3 protein and nuclear factor IA genes. Animals with both risk factors were approximately 15-fold more likely to have BCHF compared to those without, the company reported.


Although the roles of these genes in disease pathogenesis are unknown, their discovery facilitates classifying animals by genetic risk for heart failure and will allow producers to make informed decisions for selective breeding and animal health management.

“Prior to this study, there were no known genetic risk factors for BCHF,” said Michael Heaton, USMARC scientist and co-principal investigator on the project. “Once we had the associated genes in hand, we wanted to begin validating the two best markers immediately, because animals are dying every day from this disease. Our aim was to use a platform that allowed us to transfer the technology without delay. Working closely with MatMaCorp scientists, we developed our first targeted genetic test for BCHF in one week. Soon after, we began validating our results in newly identified BCHF cases, and subsequently, we identified high- and low-risk calves in a crop of more than a thousand from a severely affected herd.”

Vander Ley added, “It looks like these markers can provide immediate information to make breeding decisions today that can reduce losses for next year’s feedlot cattle. They may also allow us to identify high-risk cattle from affected herds that can be managed more effectively to reduce the impact of disease.”

“This is an example of an ideal application for MatMaCorp’s technology,” MatMaCorp founder and president Dr. Abraham Oommen said. “We can easily take genetic data and rapidly develop a cost-effective, simple test that allows significant in-the-field decisions for a wide range of applications. We look forward to seeing this research advance and also working closely with USMARC and [the University of Nebraska-Lincoln] to improve the BCHF genetic test and confirm breeding outcomes.”

MatMaCorp (Materials & Machines Corp.) is a developer of comprehensive solutions for science, medicine and agriculture. By combining engineering, life science and information technology, MatMaCorp has developed a portable, easy-to-use and affordable suite of products to power genetics for human diagnostics, animal conservation and agricultural applications, including food safety and breeding.

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