The Cows of the Future Could Be Genetically Altered to Be Heat-Resistant

Hopefully, they will also fart and burp less.
June 29, 2017, 2:00pm
Photo via Flickr user MICOLO J

Scientists are already working hard to curb the amount of climate-changing cow farts by exploring innovative approaches that include feeding them oregano, developing "super grass," and even trying out fart-collecting backpacks.

But one US cattle researcher is honing in on genes in the hopes of developing heat-resistant "cows of the future" that can endure the impact of climate change—caused in part by cow gas.

Dr. Raluca Mateescu of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences recently received a $733,000 federal grant to look at the genetic makeup of the more heat-tolerant Brangus cow. The Brangus is genetically five-eights Angus and three-eights Brahman, and fares better in warm climates than other breeds.

READ MORE: Scientists Want to Fight Cow Burps and Farts with Oregano

Since more than half of the cattle in the world lives in hot and humid environments, the Brangus was of particular interest to Mateescu, who does research in the area of beef cattle molecular genetics and, like many other scientists, is anticipating a climb in temperatures due to climate change.

"Heat stress is a principal factor limiting production of animal protein and negatively affecting health and welfare of cattle in subtropical and tropical regions, and its impact is expected to increase dramatically due to climate change," Mateescu told MUNCHIES. "One quick example is disease resistance—in hot environments, animals are more likely to exhibit a decline in disease resistance."

By editing the genes of Brangus cows, Mateescu hopes to "enhance productivity of the US livestock industry and secure global food supplies" with genomic tools that offer "a powerful new approach to address the challenges of climate change and develop climate-smart productive cattle for a future, hotter world."

If all goes as planned, genes discovered in the Brangus could be introduced into thermally sensitive cow breeds such as Angus, Simmental, and Holstein "to allow producers to exploit genetic lines of cattle selected for high productivity with minimal disruption by heat stress"—and thus guarantee a higher quality piece of meat on your plate.

And hopefully, the "cows of the future" will also fart less. It would be just one of many changes that we'd need to significantly reduce our agricultural impact, but it's a start.