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How Indian cows adapt to tropical climate: IISER Bhopal team unravels genetic makeup

Researchers sequence draft genome of four Indian cow breeds for the first time

(Left to Right) Abhisek Chakraborty, Vineet K. Sharma, Manohar Bisht and Shruti Mahajan of the IISER research team. (Left to Right) Abhisek Chakraborty, Vineet K. Sharma, Manohar Bisht and Shruti Mahajan of the IISER research team.

In a major breakthrough that will help in understanding the traits of cows native to India and especially how they adapt to the tropical climatic conditions here, a team of researchers of the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Bhopal, have managed to sequence the genome of four Indian cow breeds for the first time.

The study will help in improving the breeding and management of native cows leading to increased productivity and sustainability in the Indian cattle industry, the researchers have said.

Native Indian cows have special abilities that help them survive in tough conditions in the country, such as being able to eat poor-quality food and being resistant to certain diseases. Previous studies have looked at certain traits of Indian cows, like how well they can handle hot weather, their size, and their milk type. But, because the complete genome of these unique Indian cow breeds was not known, it was difficult to understand the reasons why they have certain traits, they said.

“So far genome sequences for native cows were not available. We have managed to sequence the genome of four native breeds – Kasargod Dwarf, Kasargod Kapila, Vechur, and Ongole - and also conserved their marker sequence for the first time. The key aim of the research is to get clues on how these cows are adapted to the Indian climatic conditions,” Vineet K. Sharma, Associate Professor, Department of Biological Sciences, IISER Bhopal, who led the team of researchers, told THE WEEK.

“Genome sequencing can help to preserve the genetic diversity of these native breeds, which is important for maintaining a healthy and resilient herd,” the researcher said.

The sequencing of ‘draft genome’ has been pre-announced in an open access preprint repository for the biological sciences (bioRXiv) hosted by 132-year-old US-based Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.

“This is a big project, which will take some time to complete and therefore at this point of time we have pre-announced the unraveling of the draft genome sequence on a preprint server. Once the project is completed, the detailed research paper will be published with final genome sequencing,” Sharma said.

IISER researchers used high-throughput sequencing techniques to read and understand the genome of four native Indian cow breeds.

Giving details, Sharma said “We have identified a specific set of genes in the native Indian cow breeds that showed sequence and structural variation compared to the genes of the Western cattle species.  This may provide valuable insights into how Indian breeds adapt to tropical conditions.” 

He mentioned that among the studied breeds is the Vechur – the smallest cattle breed in the world, native to Southern India, mainly Kerala. The Vechur breed has significant quality related to production of milk and consumption of fodder according to its small size. This makes the cow quite suitable for domestic milk consumption purposes, Sharma said. 

The pre-print research paper is co-authored by Sharma and his research scholars Abhisek Chakraborty, Manohar S. Bisht, Rituja Saxena, Shruti Mahajan, and Joby Pulikkan. Kasaragod Dwarf Conservation Society helped in sample collection from the Kapila Gaushala in Kerala.

In a media statement, the researchers said “The genome is like a blueprint or a set of instructions for building and running an organism, like a plant or animal. It's made up of tiny units called genes, which contain the information needed for the organism to grow, develop, and function properly. Just like how a blueprint for a building contains information about how to build it, the genome contains all the information an organism needs to live and survive. By understanding the genome, scientists can learn important information about the organism, like how it might be related to certain diseases or traits. Similarly marker is the segment of DNA which can be used to identify a species.”

“The genome structure can be used to improve the breeding and management of these cows, leading to increased productivity and sustainability in the Indian cattle industry. Sequencing the genome of these native Indian cow breeds can also help in understanding the genetic differences between them and other breeds, which will be a valuable resource for future studies and genetic improvement,” the statement further said.