#1 Angus Improving Genetics, Nutrition And Health

Producing healthier beef is the goal behind Iowa State University research that produced an Angus bull ranked first in the nation for marbling.

The bull is one of 400 purebred Angus cattle at the Iowa State McNay Memorial Research and Demonstration Farm near Chariton, Iowa. Marbling is a trait found in prime and choice cuts of beef. Marbling produces tastier steaks consumers prefer.

The purpose of the Iowa State Angus herd is to provide research data to improve genetics, disease resistance and nutrition in beef cattle. Although very few animals are sold from the herd as breeding stock, both producers and consumers benefit from the new technology and information the research generates.

“Beef is a wonderful source of nutrients,” says James Reecy, professor of animal science and director of the Office of Biotechnology. “Consumers want healthy food and enhancing the nutritional value of beef will increase consumer demand and ensure continued growth of the beef industry.”

Iowa State’s beef cattle breeding project is led by Reecy and Dorian Garrick, Jay Lush Endowed Chair in Animal Breeding and Genetics. The researchers received a $250,000 Biosciences Initiative grant from the Iowa Legislature in July to collect genomic information on the entire herd.

“This will raise the research and industry profile of the Iowa State University breeding program because it will be the first purebred beef cattle herd in the United States to have the entire herd characterized with whole genome markers in addition to whole genome sequence on the sires and grandsires,” Garrick says. “This will be used to demonstrate animal breeding in the genomic era.”

The research will relate the animal’s genome to their measured performance across a wide range of traits from micro­nutrients to fatty acid composition to growth to carcass traits to disease resistance. Reecy says the project will allow Iowa State to demonstrate to Iowa producers how to implement and utilize genomic selection in beef cattle.

“The Iowa State research herd has been progressively moving toward genomic selection, which provides new opportunities for genetic improvement that will benefit industry, producers and consumers,” Reecy says.

The genotyping also will be valuable to collaborators in veterinary science working with animal diseases as well as animal scientists researching grazing behavior, nutrition and meat science.

Sharing knowledge to help Iowans succeed is a long tradition for Iowa’s only demonstration cattle farm. The farm introduced cattle producers to ultrasound 17 years ago.

At the time ultrasound technology was an advancement that moved the selection of breeding stock light years ahead of tradi­tional selection methods. The ultrasound technology determined body composition and muscle marbling of live beef cattle. Gene Rouse and Doyle Wilson, both Iowa State emeritus animal science professors, introduced the ultrasound technology pioneered with the McNay herd.

“The Iowa State beef cattle breeding project began with Iowa State animal scientists who used ultrasound as a selection tool,” says Mark Honeyman, who coordinates the Iowa State Research and Demonstration Farms. “Ultrasound was a breakthrough in the 1990s because it allowed researchers to measure marbling in live cattle.”

Fall calving and early weaning were also management practices pioneered at the farm. Honeyman says the benefits of the demonstration farm go beyond genetics and include research demonstrating grazing, housing, crops and forage updates.

The McNay Farm was established in 1956 as a gift from Harry and Winnie McNay. From 1956 to the 1970s the farm has been the site for beef cattle research, pasture management, tillage, hay storage, sheep production and beef cattle housing management.

The foundation for animal breeding and the Iowa State beef cattle began with Jay Lush. Lush was an Iowa State professor of animal science from 1930 to 1966. He combined management practices, genetics and statistics to formulate a new scientific foundation for livestock improvement.

Iowa State Recognized Worldwide For Livestock Genetic Database

As more genetic markers are identified in livestock, the challenge becomes tracking the genetic information. Iowa State University is a world leader in managing a web-accessible centralized data system —The Animal Quantitative Loci Trait (QTL) Database.

“The QTL database currently contains genomic information not only for beef cattle, but also dairy cattle, pigs, chickens, sheep and rainbow trout,” says James Reecy, professor of animal science and director of the Office of Biotechnology. “Our expectation is that over time additional species will come on-line.”

The database allows researchers around the world to access trait information to enhance and incorporate into their research. Reecy says the impact of the database is far-reaching. “No one would argue this resource is benefiting everyone in the world,” he says.

Iowa State Continues Leadership Coordinating U.s. Pig Genome Program

Max Rothschild, C.F. Curtiss Distinguished Professor in Agriculture at Iowa State University, recently concluded 20 years serving as coordinator of the U.S. Pig Genome Coordination Program, supported by the National Research Support Program. In the position he was instrumental in facilitating the international effort that sequenced the swine genome.

In 1993, the research arm of the USDA decided it would support cooperation and collaboration among genome scientists working with livestock and set up a competitive request to select coordinators for swine, cattle, sheep and horses.

The National Research Support Program funded the program, which included support from Iowa State. Every five years Rothschild was reappointed as it was renewed.

The program was renewed in September. Chris Tuggle, Iowa State University animal science professor, and Cathy Ernst, Michigan State University animal science professor, will serve as the new co-coordinators.