Work begins on sequencing bison genome
April 8, 2011
Call it, “The dart shot heard round the bison world.”
With a dart fired by Dr. Dave Hunter at the Flying D Ranch in Montana last month, a team of scientists formally began the process of sequencing the entire bison genome.
Hunter, along with Dr. Steve Olsen of the with the National Animal Disease Center in Ames, IA, Dr. James Derr of Texas A&M University, and a Texas A&M graduate student Lauren Dobson, selected a mature bull that is part of the Yellowstone Park Quarantine herd being housed at Ted Turner’s Flying D Ranch south of Bozeman. Hunter then anesthetized the bull with a dart gun, and the scientists collected a series of blood, hair, and tissue samples.
“We even named him Templeton, in honor of Joe Templeton, a pioneer in genetics research,” Hunter said in describing the event.
Texas A&M will first analyze the samples to determine the genetic characterization of the animal, and to verify that the bull provides a good representation of the species. Scientists at the ARS lab at Iowa State University will then begin the complex process of sequencing the genome.
Olsen explained, “It’s like a jigsaw puzzle, where you want to get to the point where the pieces line up.” He noted that the samples collected from Templeton will be used to develop “fibroblast cell lines” to grow cells that will be used as sources of DNA to be compiled into a type of library for sequencing. Those samples can then be preserved for extensive periods of time.
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Hunter added that new equipment at Iowa State allows scientists to make longer strands of DNA that are easier to analyze. Using Olsen’s jigsaw puzzle analogy, Hunter said, “It’s easier to complete the puzzle when you have bigger pieces.”
The initial genome is being sequence De Novo, meaning that it will be analyzed without a reference point to any other species. According to Hunter, that will provide a solid baseline for identifying unique characteristics in bison.
The scientists agree that mapping the bison genome will provide the industry with a new set of tools. How those tools will be utilized, will be determined in the coming years.
Hunter noted, “One of the things we may be able to determine is why bison do not respond to some of the vaccines that are regularly used in cattle.”
The sequencing of DNA from the first sample may be completed sometime this fall. The process for the initial animal is estimated to run $400,000, but subsequent samples will cost between $50,000-$60,000. The USDA Agricultural Research Service is largely underwriting the initial sequencing project in collaboration with scientists at Iowa State University, Texas A&M, and the University of Maryland. The National Buffalo Foundation in January also donated $25,000 for the sequencing project.