Both Texas A&M and the University of Missouri have acclaimed veterinary colleges, and the two schools have frequently collaborated on work involving animals. A current project could have a huge impact on the beef industry.
James Womack, the W.P. Luse Endowed and Distinguished Professor in Texas A&M’s College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, has partnered with Missouri colleague Jerry Taylor to work on a five-year grant to study bovine respiratory disease, commonly called BRD. It is a $9.2 million project to find ways to prevent the disease and funding comes from the Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.
For cattle owners, BRD is major threat – it is the leading cause of disease in beef and dairy cattle and it annually causes losses approaching $1 billion in the cattle industry.
“It’s a disease that can really be devastating for ranchers,” Womack says of the project. “It can sometimes be fatal, but the overall lack of production from cattle that have the disease is often the biggest concern.
“It is the No.1 health problem in the cattle industry. It affects about 10 percent of the cattle in the country, so when you consider all of the millions of cattle in the United States, it results in numbers that are staggering.”
Womack says he and Missouri’s Taylor will look at the disease from a genetic viewpoint and examine the causes of BRD, and will do DNA testing on at least 6,000 cattle.
“We’ll take DNA samples from cattle that have the disease, and also from those that don’t,” Womack explains. “Then we’ll look at variations on over 700,000 genomes and do a comparative study. We have known for years that individual cattle vary in their response to the pathogens that cause BRD and that much of that variation is genetic.
“We hope this project will be a model for the power of cooperation of research and educational institutions and animal industries to make basic discoveries, train professionals in the application of these discoveries, and to translate this new knowledge into economic gain along with improved animal health and welfare.”
Texas A&M and Missouri are key partners in the project, but other schools, such as Washington State, UC-Davis, New Mexico State, Colorado State and Wisconsin are also involved in the work.
“Partnering with Missouri and these schools has been excellent for all concerned,” Womack adds. “We are proud to be associated with the Missouri team and Jerry Taylor and their outstanding work.”
Taylor holds the Wurdack Chair in Animal Genomics at the University of Missouri.
Womack adds that Texas and Missouri are also collaborating on another cattle grant, this one also from the Department of Agriculture, totaling $5 million to study feed efficiency in cattle. The study will focus on specific bacteria that reside in the stomach of cattle and how these aid in food digestion.