The Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research (FFAR) has awarded a $748,545 Seeding Solutions research grant to Acceligen, a subsidiary of Recombinetics Inc., to examine how genetic alterations can improve heat resistance in cattle.
Semex and Acceligen provided matching research funds for a total investment of $1.497 million, FFAR said.
FFAR noted that more than half of the global cattle population is raised in sub-tropical or tropical environments, in which they often undergo heat stress.
Cattle, if not adapted to heat, can exhibit an extreme physical reaction to heat stress, including reductions in feed intake and milk production, slowed growth and increased disease susceptibility, FFAR said.
“As global temperatures continue to increase due to climate change, cattle experience heat stress more frequently and more intensely — even in traditionally temperate, non-tropical environments,” FFAR executive director Dr. Sally Rockey said. “Adapting cattle to withstand the effects of heat stress is critical to ensuring global food security.”
To date, most research to reduce heat stress in cattle has focused on improving housing conditions, using feed additives and other non-genetic interventions, FFAR said, pointing out that the new grant will explore genetic approaches to reduce heat stress.
Acceligen researchers and collaborators at the University of Florida are focusing on cattle that carry gene variants in the prolactin receptor gene (PRLR) that result in a slick coat or short hair, FFAR said. The shorter hair improves heat tolerance; however, this research further examines the impact of the mutations on molecular, genetic and physiological parameters.
One aspect of this project involves employing sophisticated monitoring techniques to detect molecular differences emanating from the liver to identify key molecules for controlling metabolism prior to the onset of heat stress, FFAR said.
This information could result in development of more effective feed additives to ease seasonal heat stress caused by climate change in temperate zones, according to the announcement.
Additionally, scientists at Acceligen and Semex are using gene editing to introduce the mutations into elite beef and dairy cattle to study an animal’s ability to adapt to extreme heat and humidity. After the edits are introduced, the productivity and well-being of the precision-bred cattle will be compared to those that do not carry any PRLR edits. FFAR said by introducing these naturally occurring gene variations into non-adapted breeds, researchers can better understand how to control heat stress and ultimately improve animal health, well-being, fertility and economic return for producers.
“Tropically adapted cattle from the Caribbean Basin have provided us a naturally occurring trait that we can leverage to reduce the carbon footprint of cattle globally,” said principal investigator Tad Sonstegard, Acceligen chief executive and scientific officer. “We believe this is an exceptional opportunity to contribute innovative solutions to food security challenges related to animal protein.”