Genetic characterization of cattle populations for optimized performance in African ecosystems

Project consortium and fund                           

Thematic and geographic area of the project:    

  • Sustainable food security
  • Animal sciences
  • Food technology and safety
  • Rural development and agricultural economy
  1. Sustainable intensification. In this project we want to detect the link between adaptation and signatures of selection in local/traditional cattle breeds. Furthermore, we want to detect deleterious mutations within the populations which might cause problems (genetic defects/sensitivity to diseases) for the future which need to be taken into account.
  2. Agriculture and Food systems for nutrition. While we are working in optimal use of local /traditional cattle we also work on food technology and safety by incorporating genetic defects and diseases in our research field.
  3. Rural development and agricultural economy. By detecting adaptation traits on the genome and knowing some of the important production traits (milk, healthy offspring, longevity) we can give advice to improve breed performance and or make suggestions which breeds to use for optimizing traits within the local environment.

Project’s summary/abstract:                    

A large variety of local indigenous and commercial cattle breeds has been produced as a result of domestication and selection. This variety ensures the capability and adaptability of livestock to fulfil its role in food production under different circumstances, now and in the future. Local breeds exhibit unique adaptive features to harsh environments, which can be useful for adjusting mainstream breeds to climate change. Simply transferring high producing commercial animals to the African continent, will not be the solution due to low performance and even low survival under these harsh environments (ecosystems). The aim of this project is  to identify markers for the (positive) adaptation traits as well as the (negative) traits to be improved by studying bovine population from 6 different regions across the world from north to south in Europe and Africa. In order to investigate genetic mechanisms underlying a trait it is important to make sure the correct phenotype(s) is (are) collected uniformly for the animal. We will use the Food and Agriculture Organization of The United Nations recommendations for phenotyping animals to create the basic phenotype trait list and include preferences of local breeders. Another important goal is to collect animal biological material and to measure phenotypes on the animals of the selected breeds very accurately. For each individual animal, the ecotype where this animal is living needs to be described with clear reproducible settings. To analyse the architecture of the genetic material we use whole genome sequencing to detect the variants present within an animal. With this information we will study inbreeding in detail and more specifically, study regions in the genome which have been under natural (environmental adaptation) as well as artificial (human mediated) selection. An important deliverable of the project is a new genotyping assay specific for African cattle breeds which will include markers associated with specific traits.

Project’s main objective(s):                             

The aim of the project is to improve production and survival of traditional/indigenous breeds adapted to the local environments in Africa. This will allow us to secure the future of these well adapted traditional/indigenous local breeds.

Theory of Change and Impact Pathway

Summary ToC with assumptions                         

Within each country involved we will study several traditional/local cattle breeds and its relation to adaptation traits. By this we want to focus on the strength of the adapted breeds in the  different ecotypes. We will characterize the breeds phenotypically and molecular in order to find markers for the adaptation traits. Moreover we will also monitor biodiversity with we want to utilize and maintain. We hope to prevent extinction of local adapted African cattle breeds by using their strength (adaptation) and improving performance and longevity by selective breeding in a changing wold to decrease poverty in rural areas. An improvement in breeding strategy is a long term investment and will give final results in the near future.

Expected outcomes and impact:                          

  1. An uniform  bovine phenotype scoring list for adaptation traits.
  2. Genome wide information of the traditional breeds. Giving knowledge on the amount of diversity but also on the amount of inbreeding, detection of potential genetic defects and selective sweeps related to adaptation to a specific environment.
  3. The obtained information can be used to improve traits by selection of animals within or over breeds such as longevity, production  and resistance to diseases. This will increase production, longevity  and reduces cost for medical treatments with will result in breed performance in the next generations.
  4. Training. Training of young researchers will be conducted to use the latest technology and techniques and how to implement the findings in breeding.
  5. Involvement of all stakeholders up to farmers by creating an APP, database and website  to submit data and actively participate within the research.