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Open Access Highly Accessed Review

Genetics of animal health and disease in cattle

Donagh P Berry1*, Mairead L Bermingham2, Margaret Good3 and Simon J More4

Author Affiliations

1 Animal and Grassland Research and Innovation Centre, Teagasc, Moorepark, Co. Cork, Ireland

2 The Roslin Institute and Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, University of Edinburgh, Roslin, Midlothian EH25 9PS, UK

3 Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Kildare St., Dublin 2, Ireland

4 Centre for Veterinary Epidemiology and Risk Analysis, UCD School of Agriculture, Food Science and Veterinary Medicine, University College Dublin, Belfield, Dublin 4, Ireland

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Irish Veterinary Journal 2011, 64:5  doi:10.1186/2046-0481-64-5

Published: 31 March 2011

Abstract

There have been considerable recent advancements in animal breeding and genetics relevant to disease control in cattle, which can now be utilised as part of an overall programme for improved cattle health. This review summarises the contribution of genetic makeup to differences in resistance to many diseases affecting cattle. Significant genetic variation in susceptibility to disease does exist among cattle suggesting that genetic selection for improved resistance to disease will be fruitful. Deficiencies in accurately recorded data on individual animal susceptibility to disease are, however, currently hindering the inclusion of health and disease resistance traits in national breeding goals. Developments in 'omics' technologies, such as genomic selection, may help overcome some of the limitations of traditional breeding programmes and will be especially beneficial in breeding for lowly heritable disease traits that only manifest themselves following exposure to pathogens or environmental stressors in adulthood. However, access to large databases of phenotypes on health and disease will still be necessary. This review clearly shows that genetics make a significant contribution to the overall health and resistance to disease in cattle. Therefore, breeding programmes for improved animal health and disease resistance should be seen as an integral part of any overall national disease control strategy.