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Scientists are trying to make cows sweatier to help protect the world against climate change

Scientists are trying to make cows sweatier to help protect the world against climate change
Let’s face it: dogs and cats would be a lot less fun to pet and cuddle with if they were continuously sweaty and sticky. In fact, apart from humans, only a select few animals — such as horses and hippos — actually sweat to cool themselves down. However, this ability may also be crucial in addressing food security issues as the planet warms up.

The problem is that when cattle get too hot, they stop eating. This decline in appetite affects their health, growth, and, ultimately, the food supply derived from them. If hot temperatures cause discomfort to the cows, they may refuse to breed as well, worsening the food security concerns.

"Heat stress is the main threat to food security," explains study author Raluca Mateescu. "Under heat stress, the growth, production, and reproduction of cattle are affected."

Cows, it turns out, are adept at sweating, eliminating about 85% of their body heat this way. However, in subtropical regions, known for their extreme heat, this natural cooling mechanism often falls short. The impact is substantial, with an estimated $369 million lost annually in the US beef industry due to heat-induced performance declines.

To tackle this, Mateescu and her team are exploring the genetic basis for heat tolerance in cattle, specifically focusing on the Brangus breed —a cross between Brahman and Angus cattle. By identifying the genes responsible for sweating, they aim to breed cattle better suited to hotter climates.

The study analysed 2,401 Brangus cattle from two commercial ranches in Florida. By genotyping the animals and using advanced software to estimate genetic parameters, they discovered that genetic variation plays a significant role in sweating ability.

"There's a lot of variation between cows of the same breed," explains Mateescu. "Being able to select cattle to breed based on sweating ability could lead to herds that can tolerate hotter climates and still grow and reproduce."

This discovery is promising. The research indicates that both Brahman and Angus genes contribute positively to sweating ability in Brangus cattle. By selecting for these genetic markers, farmers can breed sweatier, more heat-tolerant cattle, ensuring the animals remain productive even as temperatures rise.

In essence, the future of our food supply might just hinge on the genetic secrets of sweaty cows. As climate change continues to reshape our environment, such innovative approaches are crucial in safeguarding agricultural productivity and ensuring a stable food supply for the world's growing population.

The findings of this research have been published in Journal of Animal Science and Biotechnology and can be accessed here.

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