Research to Study Prenatal Stress Impacts in Cattle

BY ADAM RUSSELL

A $382,800 federal grant will fund research to identify the impacts of prenatal stress on beef cattle DNA, white blood cells,  other tissue and subsequent changes in genetics related to temperament, said a Texas A&M AgriLife Research scientist.

Dr. Ron Randel, AgriLife Research physiologist, said the three year grant will finance research focused on the “effect of prenatal stress on DNA methylation and correspondence with gene expression in cattle” at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center in Overton. The research team includes Drs. Penny Riggs, David Riley and Thomas Welsh from the animal science  department at Texas A&M University in College Station.

Funding was provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

Randel said the research will follow his and others’ previous studies of Brahman cattle herds at the center, which found stresses pregnant cows experienced affected calves in utero, making them more aggressive than  calves born to unstressed mothers.

Temperamental animals are more difficult to manage, so producers look for genetic  markers that indicate docility, Randel said.

“Stress causes changes in unborn fetuses and those changes are expressed after the  animal is born,” he said. “This is a big deal because it shows there are behavioral changes that affect the way DNA causes RNA to function.”

Randel also studied stored white blood cells from 28-day-old calves to examine the methylation patterns of the animals’ DNA. He found major differences in those patterns in a significant number of genes important for animal production and health.

Methylation is a process that adds methyl groups to DNA molecules and can change the activity of a DNA segment.

“The questions this grant will answer are, ‘Are there differences that remain through maturity affecting the function of both DNA and RNA, which is how the genetic code is expressed, and are they modified by more or less methylation of the DNA?’” Randel said.

Randel said this discovery is important because cattle breeders have a number of genetic markers that have been identified and are being used to make mating selections based on DNA sequences

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