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UWA researchers make livestock breeding breakthrough

UWA researchers have made a breakthrough in breeding heat-tolerant livestock, with a recent study leading to the discovery of a marker gene in cattle.

The research, recently published in the journal Animals, was co-authored by the UWA Institute of Agriculture’s Professor Shane Maloney and Emeritus Professor Graeme Martin.

Leading the study was former UWA Crawford Fellow Muhammed Elayadeth-Meethal, who is now Assistant Professor of animal genetics at India’s Kerala Veterinary and Animal Sciences University.

Dr Elayadeth-Meethal said it was crucial for scientists to find animals that could better tolerate a warming climate.

“Identification of marker genes is an important step in identifying a superior germplasm that can resist increasing heat,” he said.

“The rich genetic diversity in cattle provided an opportunity to select varieties that were particularly suitable for hot and humid tropical regions.”

By comparing the heat tolerance of Vechur and crossbred cattle in a field environment, the multidisciplinary research team concluded ATP1A1 expression was strongly associated with heat tolerance in different populations studied.

Dr Elayadeth-Meethal said while livestock contributed to global warming, they were also a victim.

“Animal production contributes to global warming as livestock produces major share of methane — one of the prominent greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide,” he said.

“The enhanced heat and humidity also cause stress to the animals, called as heat stress that accounts for major loss in growth, production and reproductive efficiency.”

The UWA Institute of Agriculture and KVASU have a memorandum of understanding for research collaboration and postgraduate training.

The research team is now attempting to use the findings to breed climate-smart animals.

Dr Martinwas recently awarded the 2021 Marshall Medal by the UK-based Society for Reproduction and Fertility.

The internationally recognised medal was established in 1963 as the highest honour the society awards in the field of reproduction and fertility.

Dr Martin won the award for his research analysing factors that determine sheep reproduction which could be used to improve human health.

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