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Cow DNA offers clues to longer life

New research into the DNA of Scottish cows could help humans live longer and healthier lives.

That’s according to a team of scientists at Scotland’s Rural College, led by Professor Mike Coffey, who studied the lives of 700 cows from a herd in Dumfries.

They discovered that telomeres — which protect the end of chromosomes — deteriorate most in the weeks and months after birth, indicating how long and healthily an animal may live.

They also found that factors such as illness and stress can affect a telomere, can now be used to help human geneticists looking at how we can live better and prolong our life expectancy.

Producing better-quality cattle

Prof Coffey said he will use the research to find ways of producing better dairy and beef cattle. He said: “We found that most of the loss of telomere length takes place early in the animal’s life.”

“Cells divide rapidly early in life, so the argument is that animals who are born with longer telomeres have a greater chance of survival before the shorter telomeres limit their lives.”

The easy-to-obtain biological marker, researchers explained, can be used for selection in animals – i.e. longer telomeres mean they live longer so would be better for dairy or breeding and shorter would be better used for beefing.

Tests can also look at the lengths of telomeres in the offspring of specific bulls to decide which animals are best for breeding.

“That would provide information for a farmer to make an appropriate decision early on in the animal’s life.” researchers added.

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