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Study focuses on finding animals best suited to environments.

April 9, 2012

2 Min Read

It's well-known that many beef cattle living at high altitudes are afflicted by pulmonary hypertension, or high blood pressure in the arteries of the lungs, and that these animals are at risk from dying from congestive heart failure if they are not moved to lower altitudes and medically treated.

The health issue is commonly called "brisket disease," because fluid often collects in the lower chest cavities of affected cattle, swelling the brisket region.

The big question is: How can ranchers better predict which cattle are likely to develop the disease so that health problems might be averted?

Milton Thomas, a new professor at Colorado State University's Department of Animal Sciences, hopes to provide an answer. He is leading research aimed at vastly improving data-based tools used to predict whether an animal or its offspring might develop brisket disease.

"This research puts us right at the cutting edge of science," says Thomas, who joined the faculty in December to fill the John E. Rouse Chair of Animal Breeding and Genetics.

Brisket disease strikes as many as 5% of cattle living above 6,500 feet elevation, a common level for livestock in western states like Colorado, Utah, Montana and Wyoming.

Thomas and his colleagues kin CSU's Beef Cattle Breeding and Genetics Program are gleaning information  from the bovine genome, which was fully sequenced in 2004, to develop a new type of data-based tool that would more accurately forecast the likely inheritance of brisket disease.

This genomics approach  to disease prediction – taking into account an entire set of genetic information – would create a new type of Expected Progeny Difference data that would draw upon information about an animal's genome as well as measurements of their heart and lung health from individuals.

Cattle producers would use these tools when making breeding and buying decisions, much as they now consider EPDs to predict calving, growth rates and other inherited traits.

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