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Researchers Find Gene Mutation Behind Juvenile Mortality in Calves

08 July 2016

GERMANY - Respiratory diseases are among the most common ailments in calves, and new research has found a gene mutation that causes one type of respiratory problem.

Hubert Pausch, Chair of Animal Breeding at the Technical University of Munich, and his team have now been able to trace a gene mutation responsible in both Braunvieh and Fleckvieh cattle breeds: a recessive mutation that alters the structure of the airways is the culprit.

The alteration only occurs in calves when both parents were carriers of the mutation, which is why it is called 'recessive'.

The altered structure affects the movement of the cilia, tiny protrusions on the inside surface of the airway that help to clean the respiratory tract by expelling secretions. Insufficient cleaning of the airways leads to chronic infections - not good news for the calves.

"Where both the father and the mother were carriers of the defective gene variant, the survival chances of their offspring was significantly reduced. Homozygous offspring died shortly after birth," Mr Pausch said.

The mutation on chromosome 19 had already been discovered several years ago in Braunvieh. Now it had been found in Fleckvieh as well.

"For the first time it has been possible to produce evidence that the gene mutation was highly likely to have been occurred even before the breeds were split into Braunvieh and Fleckvieh," said Mr Pausch.

Fleckvieh and Braunvieh are the dominant cattle breeds in southern Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. Fleckvieh produces large quantities of high-quality milk and meat, while Braunvieh is mainly used for milk production.

The research paves the way for breeders to make better breeding decisions based on whether breeding animals carry the mutation.

Further Reading

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