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Identifying Genetic Markers to Predict Eye Pigment

September 12, 2019

The American Hereford Association (AHA) is collaborating with David Riley, Ph.D., Texas A&M, and Dorian Garrick, Ph.D., Massey University, New Zealand, to identify genetic markers to predict eye pigment and its potential relationship to eye disorders. Previous research suggests markers may exist that could assist in predicting an animal’s eye pigment.

The first step to identifying these genetic markers is to collect data. Utilizing genotyped cows from the Olsen Ranch herd in Harrisburg, Neb., Riley and AHA staff members Shane Bedwell, chief operating officer and director of breed improvement, and Stacy Sanders, director of records, collected pictures and scored eye pigment levels on approximately 900 cows.

“I want to ultimately be able to predict with high probability from a DNA sample that a given animal will produce progeny with eye pigmentation…” Riley says. “I am really happy to again be working with Dr. Dorian Garrick on a research project with tremendous potential for impact. There are multiple investigations that could branch off of our main effort here and I plan on pursuing all of them. The Olsen’s are great and I really appreciated spending a couple of days with them.”

The researchers are now working to quantify the phenotypic data (eye pigment) collected with the pictures and, using the genotypes already on file, will be able to look for correlations in genetic markers and eye pigment. The goal is to identify markers with a high correlation to pigment.

“Research projects like this are valuable for gaining better understanding of Hereford genetics,” Bedwell says. “With the importance of pigmentation to the breed, this is an important topic to research.”