Scientists have discovered how human domestication shaped the genome of the water buffalo and cattle in similar ways.
The study, which was published today in Nature Communications, is one of the first to examine multiple water buffalo genomes, comparing the genomes of 79 water buffalo to 294 cattle from around the world and other domesticated species.
Water buffalo are an important source of milk, meat and draft power in the Indian subcontinent and millions of small holder farmers in Asia rely on them for food and income. As they are closely related to cattle, understanding how their genome has changed over time has the potential to improve both species. This study provided important insights into how these species have responded to human domestication through selective breeding, to become more productive and healthy.
A team of international scientists, led by researchers at the Centre for Tropical Livestock Genetics and Health (CTLGH) and the Roslin Institute were involved in this study. Together they found that domestication has had similar impacts on the cattle and water buffalo genomes at regions associated with key production traits including milk yield, disease resistance and birth weight.
However, the group also found that shared impacts of domestication likely extend to other species too.
For example, the exact same DNA change that causes a black coat colour in German Shepherd dogs was also found in some water buffalo. The study also found that regions linked to domestication in cattle genomes overlapped those associated with stature in the human genome, likely resulting from human pressures to increase water buffalo size.
This study, which was funded by CTLGH, the Government of India and the BBSRC, suggests there is significant potential to make huge improvements in tropical livestock development.
If the same genetic sequences that code for a specific trait can be found in different species, then there is a possibility that modern gene editing techniques could be used in the future to help improve the productivity and health of agricultural animals in low- and middle- income countries and, by doing so, improve the lives of those who depend on them.
Dr James Prendergast from the Roslin Institute who led this study commented: