It’s nearly complete now. And, the consortium of scientists working on the project is placing final touches on the rough blueprint of the cattle genome, which should be finished later this year. Understanding the genome — the building blocks for a living organism — of cattle could lead to the production of healthier cows, cows that produce more milk and cows that produce only the choicest cuts of beef say the scientists.

Researchers used the human genome as a key or reference to decipher the cattle genome. Once completed, the blueprint will cover about 95 percent of the genome. It can then be used to sequence the entire cattle genome. So far scientists have complete genome maps for humans and for mice.

Scientists from the University of Illinois, Texas A&M University, the British Columbia Cancer Agency and The Institute for Genomic Research in Rockville, Md., have been working together to decipher the cattle genome for the past five years.

Harris Lewin, director of Illinois' W.M. Keck Center for Comparative Genomics, told the Associated Press that having a map of the cattle genome “is really like the human genome — you begin to mine it. And you can utilize it in many different ways to develop new tools for hunting for genes of economic importance."

With a completed genome map, scientists can start identifying what each gene does. For example, which genes cause specific diseases, or lead to the most tender meat and then use that information to selectively breed cattle for these desirable traits.

The more that is learned about specific functions of each cattle gene, the greater the ability will be of producers to selectively breed animals that consistently deliver the traits that consumers want.

Researchers are still waiting to hear is USDA will fund the continued research into the mapping the cattle genome, or if private industry investors will need to be sought to help bear the cost of the expected $100 million project.

The Herald News, Chicago, Ill.