DNA Tests for Cattle

a listing of some DNA tests known to be available for cattle traits



This webpage was last updated on Aparil 7, 2009 by Sheila Schmutz, Ph.D. schmutz@sask.usask.ca

Although many labs throughout the world offer Parentage Verification Testing using DNA, these will not be listed. This site is designed to highlight tests for specific genes, traits, or genetic diseases. Several veterniary labs offer tests to detect bacteria or viruses in cattle samples also, but again these are not covered by this website.

Coat Color Tests

MC1R or Red versus Black

This DNA test is available to distinguish black cattle which carry red from those that are homozygous black. Most labs offer a test which distinguishes the black ED allele from the red e allele. A few labs also offer an additional test which detects the third wild type allele E+. These 3 same mutations occur in Angus, Holstein, Hereford, Limousin, etc. This test could also be used to predict which White Galloway with black points could have calves with red points. In other words, it predicts red versus black on all or part of the body as appropriate for that breed. The allele E+ is required for MC1R to be responsive to agouti and therefore this allele is always present in brindle cattle and also in shaded coat colors such as Brown Swiss. Hence if a breeder wishes to eliminate the possibility of brindle animals carrying the allele E+ should not be bred.

Some labs refer to "true black" or "true red" which usually means they have found EDED and ee with no E+ present.

This test is a direct mutation detection test and therefore hair roots, semen, or blood should be collected from the animal in question. Different labs accept different types of samples, so the owner should check with their lab of choice.

MGF or Roan

A DNA test could be used to distinguish cattle that carry roan based on the mutation identified by Jeff Seitz in our group. In most cattle, this will be obvious but in a few cattle there is some uncertainty. Roan occurs in the heterzygous animal in breeds such as Shorthorn or Belgian Blue. One homozygote is colored and the other is white. The demand for this test is low so few labs would offer it.

TYRP1 or Dexter dun brown

A DNA test we recently developed to distinguish black Dexter cattle that carry dun brown. Dun brown is inherited as an autosomal recessive trait in this breed and a single mutation has been found in all dun animals. However dun in Galloway and Highland is not due to this gene and since no one has found which gene causes it, there is no test for those breeds yet.

TYR or Albisnism in Braunvieh

Albinism in Braunvieh and Brown Swiss cattle has been reported since about 1933. We have recently identified the mutation in the tyrosinase gene responsible for this. DNA testing is available through BovaCan in Saskatoon.

TYR or White Galloway

Although there is strong evidence that the White Galloway and White Park patterns are due to the tyrosinase gene, the mutation does not occur in the coding portion of the gene and therefore no DNA test has been developed. This temperature sensitive expression of pigment, like that of the Siamese cat, is inherited as a dominant. If a rancher breeds 7 non-white cows and obtains 7 white calves, there is a 99% chance that the sire is homozygous for this trait.

DNA Tests for Genetic Diseases

This list should not be considered complete. Labs offering DNA diagnostic testing for cattle seem relatively rare. Although some mutations have been discovered and are published, the tests are not necessarily offered commercially.

See more information about the labs offering tests below.

Disease Breeds Affected Gene Lab Reference
Alpha-mannosidosis Angus, Galloway MANNA ? Res Vet Sci. (1997) 63:279
Arthrogryposis (Curly Calf) Angus - Illinois not published
Beta-mannosidosis Salers MANNB Michigan Mamm Genome. (1999) 10:1137
Bovine Lymphocyte Adhesion Deficiency (BLAD) Holstein Beta-integrin Igenity Am J Pathol. (1992) 140:1489
Deficiency of Uridine Monophosphate Synthetase Holstein UMPS Igenity Genomics. 1993 16:241
Complex Veterbral Malformation Holstein SLC35A3 Igenity J Vet Diagn Invest. (2005) 17:258
Factor IX Holstein Factor IX Illinois Anim Genet. (2004) 35:454
Platelet Bleeding Disorder Simmental CalDAG-GEFI Auburn U. Veterinary Pathology (2007) 44: 932
Protoporphyria Limousin ferrochelatase GenServe Biochim Biophys Acta. (1998) 1408:18
Weaver Syndrome Brown Swiss - Illinois not published
Dwarfism Dexter - Australia not published
Pompe Brahma - Australia -
Bovine Hereditary Zinc Deficiency Shorthorn, and.... SLC39A4 ? Genomics (2006) 88:521
Albinism Brown Swiss TYR GenServe Mammalian Genome (2004) 15:62
Hypotrichosis and oligodontia Holstein, etc. EDA and ED1 ? Tierarztl Prax. (1988) 16:39

Sample Collection

DNA is present in most cells of the body. However, over time DNA can become damaged or decay and proper results can not be obtained from poor quality samples or those incorrectly stored or handled. Although crime labs use poor quality DNA, the methodologies they use would be far outside the expense budgets for any rancher. You should always contact your lab of choice before collecting a sample for DNA testing because different labs are set up to handle particular types of samples. Some countries or breed associations require the sample to be collected by a veterinarian if the sample is used for documentation purposes in regard to registration or importation.

Blood is the most commonly used source of DNA for testing and certainly for research. Blood should be collected in a purple top tube or one containing EDTA preservative which inhibits DNA degradation during shipment. A few labs now accept blood spotted onto filter paper. Blood may be refrigerated but many labs ask that it not be frozen because this lyses all the cells and only white blood cells contain DNA in mammals.

Hair Roots is now a common source of DNA. A minimum of 10 tail hairs with the roots should be submitted. These can be placed in an envelope, labelled and sent through the mail. Do not expect a lab to store such a sample for later testing however since the quantity of DNA obtained make not make this worthwhile.

Semen is another source of DNA. Usually semen is sent only from bulls that are no longer alive since semen is expensive for ranchers. Semen can be mailed and need not remain in liquid nitrogen if sent for DNA extraction. Straws are fragile and should be packaged well in padding and/or cardboard however.

Meat is another source of DNA. Usually meat or tissue, such as skin, is sent only from animals that are no longer alive. Meat from a freezer is fine. It should be shipped in chilled containers so that it does not decay enroute. If a calf dies and you wish to have DNA testing done potentially, it is wise to store a small bit of tissue (thumbnail size piece is enough) in the freezer immediately and then contact the lab about later shipment. Immediate freezing assures that the DNA will be of good quality for testing later.

Skin is another source of DNA but usually only requested if RNA studies for research purposes are planned. Punch biopsy instruments are available for veterinary use. These remove a looseleaf binder paper size hole or smaller from the hide. The veterinarian typically uses a small amount of local anesthetic prior to removing the skin biopsy. For RNA studies the skin is wrapped in tin foil and immediately plunged into liquid nitrogen. This type of sample must be shipped to the lab in a tank, either a dry shipper or a standard liquid nitrogen tank. A few companies offer an ear tag that removes a small bit of ear skin that they suggest could be dried and sent for DNA testing. We have had no experience with this tag locally.

DNA Testing Labs

Return to main Cattle coat color page


for further information contact:

Department of Animal and Poultry Science

University of Saskatchewan

Saskatoon, Canada S7N 5A8

phone: (306)966-4153 fax: (306)966-4151

e-mail schmutz@sask.usask.ca

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