Genes of Longhorn cattle show long history

March 26, 2013 at 4:28 PM
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AUSTIN, Texas, March 26 (UPI) -- The iconic Texas Longhorn cattle have a hybrid ancestry that tells a story of global migration of both cattle and humans, biologists say.

The genome of the Texas Longhorn traces back through Christopher Columbus's second voyage to the New World, the Moorish invasion of Spain and all the way to the ancient domestication of aurochs -- the ancestor of modern day cattle -- in the Middle East and India, the biologists said.

"It's a real Texas story, an American story," Emily Jane McTavish, a University of Texas at Austin doctoral student, said. "For a long time people thought these New World cattle were domesticated from a pure European lineage.

"But it turns out they have a more complex, more hybrid, more global ancestry and there's evidence that this genetic diversity is partially responsible for their greater resilience to harsh climatic conditions."

Genetic study shows the Texas Longhorn breed is a direct descendant of the first cattle in the New World, ancestral cattle taken by Columbus in 1493 to the island of Hispaniola, the researchers said.

Going further into the past, around 85 percent of the Longhorn genome is "taurine," descended from the ancient domestication of wild aurochs that occurred in the Middle East 8,000-10,000 years ago, they said.

The other 15 percent of the genome is "indicine" cattle, which often have a characteristic hump at the back of the neck, that came from Africa to the Iberian Ppeninsula

"It's consistent with the Moorish invasions from the eighth to the 13th centuries," UT biologist David Hillis said. "The Moors brought cattle with them, and brought these African genes, and of course the European cattle were there as well.

"All those influences come together in the cattle of the Iberian Peninsula, which were used to stock the Canary Islands, which is where Columbus stopped and picked up cattle on his second voyage and brought them to the New World."

"It's another chapter in the story of a breed that is part of the history of Texas," he said.

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