Cross posted from Nature Medicine’s Spoonful of Medicine blog on behalf of Michelle Pflumm.
Each year, an estimated 30,000 people in Africa are diagnosed with the crippling muscle wasting disease known as sleeping sickness. But the problem is far worse for the dairy and meat-producing cattle upon which their lives depend, as an estimated 5 billion cows die of Nagana, the animal form of the disease. Now, scientists hope to generate heartier, disease-resistant cattle — and the discovery of two new genes reported this week could help with that goal.
“The two genes discovered in this research could provide a way for cattle breeders to identify the animals that are best at resisting disease,” said Stephen Kemp, a geneticist at the UK’s University of Liverpool, in a statement.
In 1989, Kemp set out to eradicate the tsetse fly-borne disease in cattle with a simple strategy: his team crossed typical farming cattle called zebus to related disease-resistant West African cattle known locally as N’damas. Then, the researchers looked for traits that conferred sleeping sickness in resistant cattle. But the classical genetic methods his team used to find disease-resistant traits proved inconclusive. Kemp and his colleagues discovered 10 segments of the genome that conferred resistance, but the regions were simply too large and contained far too many genes to pinpoint the exact loci responsible for resistance.
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