New DNA test can beef up dairy and meat quality

A genomics technique developed at Cornell to improve corn can now be used to improve the quality of milk and meat…

A team led by Ikhide Imumorin, Cornell assistant professor of animal science, is the first to apply a new, inexpensive yet powerful genomics technique to cattle called genotyping-by-sequencing (GBS). The protocol contains only four basic steps from DNA to data, and Imumorin’s work demonstrated it generates enough markers to put cattle genomics on the fast track.

“Breeders are interested in cattle with traits such as high meat or milk quality, disease resistance and heat tolerance, but identifying the best animals means sorting through thousands of unique gene variants in the genome,” said Imumorin. “Until recently, the cost of genomics techniques has set too high a bar for breeders, and many cattle species, particularly those outside the United States and Europe found in Africa and Asia, were excluded from the genomics revolution.”

Using samples from 47 cattle from six breeds from the United States and Nigeria, Imumorin’s team used GBS to identify more than 50,000 genetic markers for genetic profiling…The team’s analysis showed the markers were preferentially located in or near the gene-rich regions in the arms of the chromosome, making them well sited for tagging genes in genetic studies. The researchers also demonstrated that the markers accurately detect the relationships among the breeds.

“GBS democratizes genetic profiling, and our work shows its usefulness in livestock,” said Imumorin. “While a genetic profile could run $70 to $150 per individual using commercially available methods, GBS brings the cost down to around $40 a sample or less. It’s a very exciting time.”

Imumorin predicts that GBS will be deployed by breeders and geneticists scanning herds for superior breeding stock. He cited the example of how selection of bulls for use in breeding programs will be streamlined through GBS-driven genome analysis around the world without the steep cost of commercial SNP chips, the standard tool based on gene variants discovered in European cattle breeds and made into off-the-shelf genotyping chips.

“For example, a bull can have genes for superior milk production, but the only way to test that is to evaluate milk production in his daughters,” said Imumorin. “A bull will be at least five years old before two generations of his offspring can be evaluated, and that’s a long time for breeders to take care of a bull that may not make the final cut. These techniques hasten the day when a bull’s value can be assessed using genetics on its day of birth more cheaply than we can do now.”

Bravo. Cost-savings and accelerated genetic development are always welcome in cattle-breeding.

A Catholic school’s teaching about civil rights


Bishop Watterson High School students protest the firing of Carla Hale

No one at the Catholic high school that fired Carla Hale in March claimed that she was anything less than a terrific physical education teacher and coach, devoted to the kids and adored by many of them.

No one accused her of bringing her personal life into the gym or onto the fields. By nature she’s private. And she loved her job too much to risk it that way.

But she lost it nonetheless, and the how is as flabbergasting as the why is infuriating.

Rather suddenly, her mother died, and an hour afterward, she and her brother numbly went through the paces of a standard obituary, listing survivors. Her brother included his wife. So Carla included her partner, Julie, whom her mother had known well and loved. Leaving Julie out would have been unthinkable, though Carla didn’t really think it through at the time. Her grief was still raw.

A parent of one of the school’s students spotted the obituary, and wrote an anonymous letter to the school and to the Diocese of Columbus, saying that they couldn’t allow a woman like Carla to educate Catholic children.

So they don’t, not anymore. In a termination notice, the principal explained that Carla’s “spousal relationship violates the moral laws of the Catholic Church.” That was the sum of the stated grievance against her, and after more than 18 years at Bishop Watterson High School, Carla, 57, was done…

So much for what the Catholic Church really thinks about the rights of working people.

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Marijuana silage turns pot-eating pigs into tastier pork roast

With Washington state about to embark on a first-of-its-kind legal market for recreational marijuana, the budding ranks of new cannabis growers face a quandary over what to do with the excess stems, roots and leaves from their plants.

Susannah Gross, who owns a five-acre farm north of Seattle, is part of a group experimenting with a solution that seems to make the most of marijuana’s appetite-enhancing properties – turning weed waste into pig food.

Four pigs whose feed was supplemented with potent plant leavings during the last four months of their lives ended up 20 to 30 pounds heavier than the half-dozen other pigs from the same litter when they were all sent to slaughter in March.

“They were eating more, as you can imagine,” Gross said.

Giving farm animals the munchies is the latest outcome of a ballot measure passed by Washington voters in November making their state one of the first to legalize the recreational use of pot. The other was Colorado. Both were among about 20 states with medical marijuana laws already on their books.

The federal government still classifies cannabis as an illegal narcotic, and the Obama administration has not yet said what actions, if any, it will take in answer to the newly passed recreational weed statutes.

You were expecting, maybe, leadership?

Matt McAlman, the medical marijuana grower who provided the pot leavings for Gross’ pigs, says he hopes the idea expands with the likely impending expansion of Washington state’s marijuana industry.

We can have pot chickens, pot pigs, grass-fed beef,” he said.

Draft regulations issued last week to govern the burgeoning recreational-use industry seem to leave open that possibility. The rules dictate that marijuana plant waste must be “rendered unusable prior to leaving a licensed producer or processor’s facility,” adding that mixing it with food waste would be acceptable.

Sounds good to me. Might even enjoy some baby back ribs with a dash of THC flavoring brought to a bouquet by delicate smoking.