There are 20 million dairy cows in Europe. With 4.2 million dairy cattle and approximately 70,000 milk producers, Germany is the largest milk producer in the EU (source: Destatis – Statistisches Bundesamt / Federal Statistical Office, as of May 2017). The leading international cow's milk producers are the USA, Russia, China and India. Milk is one of the most important food worldwide. Nevertheless, milk production and aspects of keeping dairy cattle appropriate to the species have strikingly become the subject of controversial debate. An important concern in the modern dairy farming is the extension of the productive lifespan of dairy cows. In order to do this, the fertility and the health of the animals must be improved. Against this background, holistic solution and management systems take center stage in the EU-research project GplusE, since the conditions for animal husbandry and environmental protection have a decisive influence on the well-being and capacity of the animals. The general objective of the EU project is the development and use of a phenotype genotype database, with which new breeding and farming strategies can be implemented for a more sustainable milk production in the future.
Since 2014, scientists from seven European countries as well as China and the USA have been conducting research in a consortium of 17 cooperation partners in the EU project GplusE (Genotype and Environment) for a more effective and sustainable milk production. In particular, aspects of the genotype and environmental issues play a role in the rearing of dairy cattle. The project under the auspices of the University College Dublin in Ireland will run until 2018 and will be funded with a total of 8.5 million Euros. 360,000 Euros are available to the Leibniz Institute for Farm Animal Biology (FBN) in Dummerstorf.
“After four years of intensive research, gene sequences are now crystallizing, which affect the health and fertility of dairy cows”, said the German Project Manager and Veterinarian Dr. Frank Becker from the Institute of Reproductive Biology at the FBN. “These promising results must now be reconciled with the data from five national test herds, which live in geographically diverse environments of pasture and livestock housing in the research consortium’s central database.”
Genetic detective work in the laboratory
Together with the Chilean veterinary surgeon Dr. Sergio Eliseo Palma Vera and other scientists, Dr. Frank Becker at the Research Institute in Dummerstorf is responsible for the genetic analysis of blood and tissue samples of the test herds in Denmark, Belgium, Ireland, Italy and at the FBN in Dummerstorf. The most widely used dairy cattle breed Holstein-Friesian is being examined. Powerful data processing platforms are available to the people in Dummerstorf, in cooperation with the University of Rostock, for the evaluation of the extremely extensive data material. The genetic detective work within the GplusE-Project will also be used to train a new generation of young scientists in the special field of bioinformatics.
“Farmers know a lot about their cows, but still comparatively little about genetic and environmental factors. While genomic selection in breeding bulls has become established in practice, the influence of the maternal side with its respective genotype is still largely unexplored”, said Becker. “It is up to the scientists to find genetic biomarkers, which show the inner relationships between metabolism, the environment and reproductive functions. It is a question of improving animal welfare and animal health of dairy cows in case of stable performance. We are still at the beginning; but molecular biology strategies will also prevail in milk production", Dr. Frank Becker is convinced.
For many years, the FBN has been busy with research, development and use of technologies for the phenotyping of farm animals. A variety of methods are combined in phenotyping, in order to correlate individual features, e.g., the metabolism, health or fertility (phenotype) with genetic conditions and the environment and thus to enable a comprehensive classification of the animal. On the basis of this scientific work, the animal well-being should be moved into focus of a resource-conserving food industry and new standards should be defined in dealing with farm animals.
Further information is available at www.gpluse.eu
Fotos: FBN/Thomas Häntzschel
Suggestion: Dr. Becker and Dr. Palma Vera in the experimental facility for cattle and Dr. Palma Vera in the lab in gene expression/in front of the facility.
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Leibniz Institute for Farm Animal Biology (FBN)
Wilhelm-Stahl-Allee 2, 18196 Dummerstorf
Director: Prof. Dr. Klaus Wimmers
T +49 38208-68 600
Institute of Reproductive Biology
Director: PD Dr. Jens Vanselow
Department of Experimental Reproductive Biology
Dr. Frank Becker
T +49 38208 68 756
Scientific Organisation: Dr. Norbert K. Borowy
Wilhelm-Stahl-Allee 2, 18196 Dummerstorf
T +49 38208-68 605