BREEDING AND GENETICS SYMPOSIUM:Breeding heat tolerant dairy cattle: the case for introgression of the “slick” prolactin receptor variant into Bos taurus dairy breeds1
- S. R. Davis 2a,
- R. J. Spelmana and
- M. D. Littlejohna
Increasing environmental temperatures are a threat to the sustainability of livestock production and, because of the high metabolic demands of lactation, to dairy production in particular. Summer heat waves in temperate climates reduce feed intake, milk production, and cow comfort. In extreme heat events, there is an increase in cow mortality. In tropical climates, dairy cattle are mostly Bos indicus (zebu) type or zebu crossbred with temperate dairy breeds. Crossbreeding is undertaken to combine the heat tolerance and tick resistance of zebu with the productivity of temperate dairy breeds. In the absence of improved heat tolerance, milk production and fertility of temperate cattle is severely impaired. We have recently identified a key role for the prolactin pathway in regulating heat tolerance. A de novo mutation in prolactin that impairs prolactin activity was discovered in hairy and heat intolerant, New Zealand dairy cattle. The phenotypes produced were remarkably similar to those seen in fescue toxicosis, a syndrome seen in grazing cattle in the U.S. where ingestion of ergovaline, a fungal toxin from infected pasture, inhibits prolactin secretion. Recognition of the role of prolactin in hairy cattle led us to identify a deletion in exon 10 of the long-form of the prolactin receptor in Senepol cattle that causes truncation of the protein and determines the slick coat and heat tolerance traits found in this Bos taurus, beef breed. The short form of the prolactin receptor is predicted to be unaffected by the deletion. Knowledge of this dominant mutation has provided the impetus to begin a crossbreeding program to investigate performance and heat tolerance of temperate dairy cattle carrying the slick, prolactin receptor variant. The perceived opportunity is to introgress this variant into temperate dairy cattle to enable performance and welfare improvement in hot climates. Heat tolerance of cattle with slick coats appears to be mostly associated with coat type although sweating ability may also be enhanced. Further investigation is required of performance traits in cows homozygous for the slick variant because the published data are almost exclusively from heterozygous animals. Combination of the slick mutation with other favorable genes for heat tolerance, especially those for coat color, will be particularly enabled by gene editing technologies, offering opportunities for further improvement in bovine thermotolerance.Please view the pdf by using the Full Text (PDF) link under 'View' to the left.
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