Genetic Defect Seen in New Zealand's LIC Matrix Bull

NEW ZEALAND - A genetic defect seen in semen supplied by Livestock Improvement (LIC) bull, Matrix, has left calves being born deformed, with many of the calves being excessively hairy, heat intolerant and poor milk production.
calendar icon 17 September 2012
clock icon 4 minute read

A mutation occurred naturally during formation of the embryo that became the Holstein Friesian bull, Halcyon, which LIC progeny tested in 2008.

As the bull matured he was seen to be unusually hairy but there was nothing to raise any concern about subsequent impact for his daughters.

Halcyon sired 95 daughters across 44 LIC Sire Proving Scheme herds and two sons, Matrix who came into the 2010 DNA Proven team as a late replacement carrying out 12,345 inseminations, and Maverick who was sampled in 2010 Sire Proving.

Halcyon’s Sire Proving Scheme daughters calved in spring 2011. Nothing unusual was noticed about them (by the farmers or breed society TOP Inspectors) but concerns were raised when herd testing showed that some were not producing milk. Investigation revealed that these effects were seen in around half of Halcyon’s daughters which were also hairier than normal.

Tissue samples were taken from 30 or 40 Halcyon daughters which were excessively hairy and still in milk, and also took samples from a similar sized group of Halcyon daughters which farmers said were normal.

The DNA from both groups was sent to the United States for genotyping just before Christmas 2011. The results came in over the holidays and data began to be analysed.

By early February 2012 LIC had narrowed things down to 1 of the 30 bovine chromosomes which might have contained the defective gene.

The analysis showed that one group received a piece of the chromosome while the others received the other chromosome pair on around five per cent to 10 per cent of the chromosome. LIC then had to go into the region of the chromosome and see what genes were sitting in this area. (There are around 5-10 million base pairs and 100 genes in this region of the chromosome).

The scientific team knew about a gene which has a major role in lactation and is also known to create a hairy phenotype in humans when disrupted, and it was thought that this was probably the gene causing the problem – LIC just had to sequence it.

The gene was sequenced in Halcyon and some affected and unaffected heifers and we found the base pair that differed between the two groups. That was in March 2012.

Some farmers have said that it took too long for LIC to advise farmers about the genetic defect.

The first indications there might be an issue was when Halcyon daughters were herd tested – ie in November 2011. Prior to that the calves had been reared on farms and none of their owners, or Breed Society TOP inspectors, had raised any concern about the roughness of their coats.

The inability of some daughters to lactate resulted in LIC Scientists begin an urgent analysis. This involved tracking down the specific causative mutation among 3.2 billion base pairs arriving at a conclusion in March 2012. Once LIC knew what was causing the problem, LIC immediately contacted farmers who had used Matrix.

LIC understands farmer frustration but five months is incredibly quick compared to the years it would have taken before LIC began its investment in biotechnology. It’s worth noting that, even a few years ago, achieving this breakthrough in identifying the cause of the defect would have taken years – not months.

Compensation will not be offerd because the mutation occurred naturally and spontaneously and was not discovered until after the inseminations were carried out.

Genetic defects are a fact of life – in any animal species. No genetics company in the world has been known to compensate in similar circumstances.

LIC’s focus has been on equipping farmers with the necessary information to identify and remove affected animals to avoid further cost and to rid the industry of the genetic defect for good.

In addition to free DNA sampling and analysis, LIC will be crediting the cost of all semen and inseminations from Matrix regardless of the fact that half of the heifer progeny are perfectly healthy. In effect this means LIC is crediting every cent earned from the bull back to the farmers who used it.

Federated Farmers Dairy wants to clarify its position on semen supplied by LIC bull, Matrix, to farmers, leading to a number of calves being born deformed. Many of these calves are excessively hairy, heat intolerant and the grown heifers do not milk properly.

The Federation is looking at all options to bring a resolution to this problem. The Federation has been in contact with the directors and chief executive of LIC, as well as the chairperson of the LIC Shareholders’ Council. The good of the co-operative is at stake, and while legal action is a possibility, it is a long way down the list of actions yet to be taken.

TheCattleSite News Desk

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