White Angus headed our way

25 Feb, 2016 03:00 AM
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US scientists Dr James West and Dr Warren Gill are expecting to have white Angus calves on the ground by early next year.
US scientists Dr James West and Dr Warren Gill are expecting to have white Angus calves on the ground by early next year.

WHITE Angus cattle with a far greater heat tolerance capacity are now very close to being a commercial reality and those who have engineered the genetics believe northern Australia will be one of the fastest take-up regions.

Through the use of modern biotechnology techniques developed for human medicine, a startup in the United States called AgGenetics is about to place white Angus genetics in recipient cows.

The embryos have been edited to contain the white hair gene from Silver Galloway cattle and the short hair gene from the Senepol breed on background show champion Angus genetics.

An improvement in heat tolerance of a little over 8 degrees Celsius, with no losses in production, carcass and meat eating qualities of top-end Angus genetics, has been validated by numerous independent studies.

However, it’s common sense, say the business’ founders Dr James West and Dr Warren Gill.

To keep cool, you wear white and get a haircut.

AgGenetics’ business model estimates these set of traits in the Angus breed could add $12b in value to Australia’s beef industry.

Dr West, who runs a laboratory at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee with over 20 employees and more than $5 million in annual funding, said the new white Angus cattle would not start developing any heat stress at all until around 32 degrees Celsius.

So while they will still have some heat stress, it won’t be enough to prevent their use in far warmer regions of Australia where currently Brahman cattle are the dominant breed, he said.

“Next year, we will do testing in Brazil under similar climatic conditions as northern Australia so we will then know for sure how these cattle will perform,” he said.

“In the second generation, we’re hoping to increase their density of sweat glands, to increase their heat tolerance even further.”

AgGenetics, which is currently taking investment interest, is already in discussions with Australian breeders interested in the heat-adapted genes.

Dr. Gill is a leader in micronutrient research and has owned and run a commercial cattle ranch for 40 years.

The two first collaborated on copper deficiency but when Dr West’s experimentations with coat colour modification in mice showed potential to ‘turn cattle white’ the obvious advantages to the beef industry were evident.

Improving animal productivity while simultaneously enhancing welfare has been the underlying goal, the scientists say.

“Through proprietary gene discovery and editing techniques, our solution is to replace the black coat normally found in Angus cattle with a white coat that will reflect sunlight and black skin to resist sunburn and melanoma,” Dr West said.

“These genes were discovered in the Silver Galloway cattle breed. We’ve also added a naturally shortened coat from a gene we found, and patented, in Senepol cattle to keep them even cooler.

“Nearly 82 per cent of the world’s 1.2 billion cattle can be found in developing countries where heat tolerance is considered to be one of the most important adaptive aspects and the lack of thermally-tolerant breeds is a major constraint on cattle production.”

AgGenetics will sell its white Angus genetics via straws of semen to be used in artificial insemination.

“We’re planning on pricing the semen to be comparable to the prices from the bulls we use as the genetic background, so although all of them will come from champion bloodlines we don’t plan to be charging a significant premium for the heat adaptation traits themselves,” Dr West said.

So what is the difference between gene editing and genetic modification?

“Genetic modification is introducing either synthetic genes or genes from another species,” Dr West explained.

“Gene editing is just making changes to the genes already there.

“We’re not doing anything in the lab that 30 years of crossbreeding couldn’t do - we’re just doing it a lot faster and cheaper.”

With the first calves due in early 2017, AgGenetics expects to have multiple heat tolerant genetic lines ready for market in 2018.

Visit www.aggenetics.com

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FarmOnline
Shan Goodwin

Shan Goodwin

is the national beef writer for Fairfax Agricultural Media.
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READER COMMENTS

Veteran
26/02/2016 7:08:54 AM

Well these have been around in Australia and exported to many Countries for Many many decades, they are called Murray Greys and its like re inventing the wheel. Do proper research on what is already in the market place. Congratulations you have just copied what is already available and is acceptable in the market place.
Helena Warren
26/02/2016 7:28:00 AM

Are you serious? Check out a bull called Cadfor Genesis that has semen available with Genetics Australia. He is a Murray Grey with a pretty high proportion of Angus in his pedigree. Thousands of straws have been sold worldwide to produce a white angus derivative. Also Rogialyn Murray Greys & Platinum Angus are already marketing a white angus. Wallawong Murray Greys are supplying the genetics into Northern Australia. Get your facts right and save your money.
Rod Hoare
26/02/2016 7:35:15 AM

This story has created quite a bit of amusement in Murray Grey circles. We reckon breeders developed White Angus decades ago. The research shows they are more heat tolerant than blacks. Aggenetics could save a lot of time and money by just using what is already proven. However I think their project is more about making money than improving cattle production.
Deanna
27/02/2016 2:13:12 PM

...what a joke, so basically you want to steal the attributes of the Murray gray and call it a 'white angus'
Graybull
4/03/2016 6:57:36 PM

Do NOT confuse Murray Greys with "White Angus". Because of better selection......Murray Greys are far advanced for real world beef production than any "White Angus can hope to be.

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