The mapping of the bovine genome will make it possible to improve the health and disease management of cattle and enhance the nutritional value of beef and dairy products.
Researchers believe it will allow producers to "achieve as much improvement in cattle breeding and production in 50 years as we have over the last 8000 years of traditional farming."
The $53m international effort established a bovine sequence that contains 2.9 billion DNA base pairs and incorporates one-third more data than any previous bovine sequence.
Scientists noted that the differences in just one of these base pairs can affect the functioning of a gene and mean the difference between a highly productive and a poorly performing animal. Over two million of these base pairs, which are genetic signposts or markers, were identified as part of the project.
"We can use this data to identify those genes that are involved in important functions like lactation, reproduction, muscling, growth rate and disease resistance," said Dr Brian Dalrymple, head of bioinformatics livestock research at Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial ResearchOrganisation.
"This is just the beginning of a revolution in the way we produce our animals and food," Dr Dalrymple said. "Once we have a complete set of genes that influence tenderness, for example, we will be able to predict that animals of a certain type, fed a particular type of pasture or grain, will consistently produce meat of a particular standard of tenderness and marbling."
Scientists mapped the Hereford breed of cattle for the majority of the sequencing project. Holstein, Angus, Jersey, Limousin, Norwegian Red and Brahman animals were also sequenced to detect specific genetic differences between breeds.
Contributors to the international effort included the National Institutes of Health, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research, the state of Texas, Genome British Columbia, The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization of Australia, Agritech Investments Ltd., Dairy InSight, Inc, AgResearch Ltd; the Kleberg Foundation and the National, Texas and South Dakota Beef Check-off Funds.
Collaboration between the organizations will now be concentrated on analyzing the available data to make it applicable to the beef and dairy industry.