Large populations of beef cattle have been assembled and genotyped to develop models to predict their genetic merit for feed efficiency, growth, and carcass composition. Populations are also being assembled to allow the development of prediction models for health and fertility traits.

Scientists believe a new tool, called the "snip chip," may revolutionize the livestock industry and help farmers and ranchers produce even more.

With funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and industry partners, a team of scientists in Missouri and Maryland developed the snip chip to identify DNA markers for economically important traits in livestock, including disease susceptibility, milk production, reproduction, and growth.

Gene variations are often caused by single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNP)—a snip. A snip is a change in a single location in the DNA structure. Each SNP provides an indirect measure of the nearby genetic variants. SNP tests have revolutionized the scientists' ability to detect the regions of the genome that harbour variations associated with traits. These tests, however, must be performed in a large number of animals to properly match the SNP variations with differences in traits of economic importance.

Researchers around the world are using the chip to identify regions within the bovine genome that harbour variants that cause animals to differ in the outward expression of important traits. More importantly, the high resolution of this snip chip will allow an animal's total genetic merit from its SNP profiles. The beef industry is following on the heels of the dairy researchers.

"Application of this research to the beef and dairy industries, and eventually the use of comparable tools for the swine and sheep industries, will forever change selection programs in livestock," says Jerry Taylor, a scientist at the University of Missouri. "In addition, these tools are rapidly expanding the understanding of the genetic control of economically important traits in all domestic livestock species."