Missouri, Texas A&M receive $14 million research grants

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The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture has awarded two major grants totaling more than $14 million to researchers at the University of Missouri and Texas A&M University for conducting research on Bovine Respiratory Disease (BRD) and feed efficiency. These issues are of vital economic significance to the cattle industry and are priority areas for improving cattle health and production.

The United States has the world’s fourth largest cattle population. More than 970,000 farms raise beef cattle, contributing to a $71 billion retail value. Yet, farmers and feedlot operators spend millions of dollars every year feeding some cattle that don’t grow efficiently. Simultaneously, when cattle are brought together in feedlots, they can be exposed to Bovine Respiratory Disease, leading to significant economic losses and reduced animal well-being.

Researchers at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM) will lead the research on the $9.2 million BRD project and will be key participants in the University of Missouri-led $5 million project aimed at improving feed efficiency in cattle.

Dr. James Womack, W.P. Luse Endowed & Distinguished Professor at the CVM, is the project director for the five-year grant to help reduce the incidence of BRD in beef and dairy cattle. BRD is the leading cause of disease death in beef and dairy cattle, resulting in annual losses of more than $690 million nationally.

Dr. Jerry Taylor, Wurdack Chair in Animal Genomics a the University of Missouri’s College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources, will serve as project director of the $5 million grant to study feed efficiency in cattle.

With this grant, researchers hope to accomplish the goal of reducing the incidence of BRD through the identification of genetic components that provide resistance to pathogens that cause the disease. For this, Womack and his team will work with commercial feedlots to analyze the DNA of more than 6,000 cattle. The investigators will then develop selective breeding programs based on their research, which will result in improved animal health management strategies and provide an understanding of the biological interactions between the host and the disease-causing pathogens.

In addition to funding research, this grant will also help fund undergraduate, veterinary, and graduate education.  It will also facilitate the translation of research into practical application in feedlots and dairy farms through a dedicated extension component.

“We have assembled an extremely strong team of research scientists, educators, and extension specialists to combat a serious and complex animal health issue with modern genomic technology,” explains Womack. “We have known for years that individual cattle vary in their response to the pathogens responsible for Bovine Respiratory Disease and that much of this variation is genetic.  We now have the genomic tools to identify the basis for this variation at the DNA level and to utilize this information in selective breeding programs and animal health management. This project will be a model for the power of cooperation of major research and educational institutions and animal industries to make basic scientific discoveries, to train professionals in the application of these discoveries, and to translate new knowledge into economic gain along with improved animal health and welfare.”

“We are elated to have such innovative investigators who have afforded the opportunity for such a prominent grant to be housed at the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences,” notes Dr. Eleanor Green, Carl B. King Dean of Veterinary Medicine. “The powerful collaborations brought together through this grant will revolutionize the beef and dairy industries by saving many animals and markedly increasing production.”

“This national funding is a clear recognition of the outstanding animal genomics program at the CVM, which is comprised of a National Academy of Sciences member and several internationally renowned scientists,” says Dr. Bhanu Chowdhary, Associate Dean for Research & Graduate Studies at the CVM. “We are extremely proud of this remarkable achievement by our faculty. Their contributions will bring about lasting improvement in two areas of economic importance to the cattle industry – health and production.”

While Texas A&M is the lead institution on this project, the team includes scientists and educators from the University of Missouri, Washington State University, University of California-Davis, New Mexico State University, Colorado State University, the University of Wisconsin, and the USDA ARS unit in Beltsville, MD.  Participants from Texas A&M include Dr. Noah Cohen, Dr. Loren Skow, Dr. Lawrence Falconer, Dr. Christopher Seabury, Dr. Scott Dindot, and Dr. Alan Dabney. The genomics program at Texas A&M is further supported by AgriLife Research.

The grant to study feed efficiency in cattle will genotype 8,000 cattle and determine how genetic differences affect feed intake and efficiency. They will also study specific bacteria and microbes that reside in the cattle’s stomach that aid in food digestion.

“If we can identify and selectively breed the animals that have the best combination of genes for producing high-quality beef with the least amount of grain, their offspring could reduce environmental impacts and save producers millions of dollars,” says Taylor. “Limiting the amount of feed used to produce beef could open farmland for other important crops, such as corn for ethanol, which could decrease dependency on fossil fuels and foreign oil.”

Dr. Christopher Seabury, assistant professor in animal genomics at the CVM, and a key participant from Texas A&M in the feed efficiency project said, “This project undoubtedly has the potential for major scientific advances enabling more efficient and cost-effective cattle production. I’m very excited about the opportunities it will offer to the beef industry.”

The $75 billion beef and dairy industry has a significant impact on the national economy and in particular contributes largely to the rural economy. The two grants by USDA-NIFA will provide tools for improvement in cattle health and production and increase profitability in the cattle industry.

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Terry o'Neill    
Montana  |  April, 18, 2011 at 11:19 AM

Will the research be by breed and by sire per breed?This question would include cross bred cattle as well. Terry

Richard R. Frahm    
Blacksburg, VA  |  April, 18, 2011 at 12:29 PM

This is an exciting devlopment. It clearly indicates the huge impact that animal genomics will likely have on improving livestock production. As the former Director of the National Animal Genomics Research Program, I am extremely proud of the ongoing achievements that those scientists working in animal genomics continue to make. I anticipate great things from the collaborative effort of Drs. Womack and Taylor.

Not Convinced    
central plains USA  |  July, 24, 2011 at 09:17 PM

I have worked many years in the cattle research arena (much with BRD) and have unique insight of legitimacy of findings. There is a real and large disconnect between research and real world cattle feeding. Trying to crack the problem of BRD with genomics? - those who really know the science of BRD know this is a boon-doggle. How will they know for sure the cattle they will be researching haven't had a subacute case of pnuemonia that wasn't treated? I can tell you for a fact - no one knows. There have been good studies proving that the best pen riders will not catch not even half of all cases of pneumonia - as proved by lung lesions observed at the packing house. I repeat - Boon Doggle. Does one study finding a "significant" difference mean it will follow on for all cattle? Large numbers, much more than 8000 are required to know if a real - and I mean real (not just significant) - differences are good. The real significance in cattle differences is spread over seasons and years - A super hot summer or a bad winter will skew any findings - thus is takes tens or hundreds of thousands of head. Any cattle nutrientist will tell you this. Bottom line is this: Is this worth $14 of taxpayers money? Will the industry and eventually the taxpayers get there 14 mill back from this research? I personally don't think so.

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