Articles tagged as: College of Veterinary Medicine & Biological Sciences
A cat may have only nine lives, but it has tens of thousands of genes that determine everything from physical traits to disease susceptibility. Researchers, including a team at Texas A&M University, will work to sequence the cat genome in hopes of finding keys to better health − not only for cats, but also humans.
William Murphy, a professor at Texas A&M’s Department of Veterinary Integrative Biosciences, in the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, and his team join researchers at the University of Missouri, Cornell University and the University of California-Davis in the “99 Lives Cat Whole Genome Sequencing Initiative,” to sequence the 20,000 genes in various breeds of cats.
The term “genome” refers to all of an organism’s genetic material.
Murphy, who specializes in mammalian comparative genomics, especially feline genetics, explains that sequencing a whole genome means identifying, in order, every DNA base in the genome. “Until very recently, most of the cat genome has remained un-deciphered,” Murphy notes. “Just recently, the complete genome of a single cat was determined.”
For the 99 cats project, as the name suggests, researchers will gather 99 additional cats of diverse breeds from a wide variety of geographic locations, take DNA samples and work to sequence their genomes. This will provide a large collection of sites in the cat genome that are likely to vary within and between individual cats of all breeds as well as non-breed cats throughout the world.
“To identify the genetic basis of traits of interest, we start by testing thousands of these genetic markers that are variable within the cat genome − locations that mark a location on a chromosome,” Murphy says. “To be able to determine which genes cause certain physical attributes, like body size for example, you have to find a specific marker that is consistently associated with a specific trait value or disease. When a marker like this is identified, we know somewhere on that chromosome, in the vicinity of that genetic marker, is the actual mutation that causes the disease. Then we use the genome sequence to identify the exact mutation that causes that trait or disease.”
Once they know what mutation causes a certain trait or disease, Murphy explains, a genetic test may be developed so that owners and breeders can have their cats tested and use the results for selective breeding. They may choose to breed for certain traits, such as fur or eye color, or to avoid breeding cats that carry a mutated version of the normal gene. Murphy says it may also be possible to develop new therapies to treat disease by targeting the right genetic mutation.
The first cat to be sequenced was Cinnamon, an Abyssinian, in 2007. But at that time only 60 percent of her DNA was determined, Murphy explains, whereas within the past two years researchers have sequenced 95 percent of her genome. “Today we have the ability to sequence many genomes at a fraction of the cost as compared to five years ago,” he notes.
Once the 99 subjects have been chosen, some of the DNA samples will derive from Murphy’s collection at Texas A&M. “It will take about six months, conservatively, to sequence and analyze each sample,” he says.
So what does the sequencing of the cat genome have to do with human health?
Murphy says cats and humans share several hundred pathologies, or causes and effects, of disease. “Often mutations in the same genes in both humans and cats cause the same disease, so if we can find a gene in a cat that causes a certain disease, we may be able to find the same in humans.”
He says diabetes, for example, is similar in cats and humans. “Cats are a good model for diabetes because they are sedentary and have similar risk factors that humans have.”
Other genetic diseases that have been studied in the cat include polycystic kidney disease, spinal muscular atrophy and cataracts.
Murphy explains the hope for human health, as with cats, is that new and better pharmaceuticals may be developed based on the knowledge gained from the project.
As the project progresses, researchers at the participating universities will share information with one another using a cloud-based website.
Media contact: Lesley Henton, Division of Marketing & Communications at Texas A&M University;
Whether in health and medicine, education or law, science or engineering, the arts and architecture, business or public policy, researchers at Texas A&M University are making a global impact with cutting-edge investigation and innovative ideas to tackle humanity’s greatest challenges. Here are just five examples of this year’s many innovative Aggie research projects.
Cow Antibodies Suggest New Therapies For People
There is perhaps no greater threat to humans and animals alike than infectious disease, and researchers at Texas A&M’s College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences (CVM) helped make a major breakthrough this year in the fight against bacterial and viral infections. CVM researchers, in conjunction with The Scripps Research Institute, studied an extraordinary family of cow antibodies which gives cows an unusual immune defense, and found they’re also suited to defend against pathogens in humans, opening the potential for new breakthrough therapies. Aggie researchers Waithaka Mwangi, Michael F. Criscitiello and Terje Raudsepp co-authored the study, published in the June 6, 2013 issue of the journal Cell.
Using Chemistry To Clean Up Oil Spills
The world watched in April 2010 as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the largest accidental marine oil spill in history, caused unimaginable damage to the Gulf Coast environment. Research into the prevention and mitigation of future oil spills is widespread at Texas A&M, and one of those researchers, College of Science Chemistry Professor Karen Wooley and her team are creating nanoparticles that can be used to soak up spilled crude oil. The team continues to work with this “nano-solution,” finding new and innovative applications including the delivery of drugs to treat ailments such as cancer and lung infections, according to the college.
New Material May Improve Ultrasounds
Health research is thriving in many different colleges at Texas A&M, including the Dwight Look College of Engineering, where Biomedical Engineering Professor Vladislav Yakovlev and collaborators at three other universities developed a new material which converts ultrasound waves into optical signals that can be used to produce an image. The material, known as “metamaterial,” improves on conventional ultrasound technology which generates images by converting ultrasound waves into electrical signals, according to the college. This innovation shows the potential for producing high-quality images that show much greater detail, allowing medical professionals to see what they haven’t been able to see before.
It might sound like something out of a sci-fi comedy, but rest assured, it’s real. Dave Hyland, professor of physics and astronomy and a faculty member in Texas A&M’s aerospace engineering department theorizes that “tribocharging powder dispensing,” or the high-pressured spreading of a thin layer of paint over an approaching asteroid, will shift it from its current orbit. NASA liked the idea so much, they’ve approached Hyland to develop a project to test the theory and just in time, as a 1,000-foot long asteroid called Apophis will come close to us in 2029 and again in 2036, when there is a small chance it will hit Earth.
Using Seaweed To Fight Storm Surge
In addition to the main campus in College Station, research at Texas A&M’s branch campuses is thriving and a good example is the much-needed research into hurricane mitigation at Texas A&M-Galveston. One standout project teams TAMUG researchers with the Galveston Island Park Board of Trustees for a pilot program to fight storm surge that may help save lives and protect property from rising sea levels and future hurricanes. The idea is to use the seaweed that washes ashore to fortify sand dunes to be more resilient to storm surges and high tides. This innovation may serve to prevent the massive damage seen in Galveston in 2008, when Hurricane Ike breached the seawall, flooding parts of the city.
Other innovative projects this year have included building bi-pedal robots, a new method of treating aneurysms, improved imaging for diagnosing oral cancer, a natural substitute for artificial food dyes and turning nuclear waste into energy.
For more on Texas A&M research, visit the Division of Research online at vpr.tamu.edu.
About 12 Impacts of the 12th Man: 12 Impacts of the 12th Man is an ongoing series throughout the year highlighting the significant contributions of Texas A&M University students, faculty, staff and former students on their community, state, nation and world. To learn more about the series and see additional impacts, visit http://12thman.tamu.edu.
About Research at Texas A&M University: As one of the world’s leading research institutions, Texas A&M is in the vanguard in making significant contributions to the storehouse of knowledge, including that of science and technology. Research conducted at Texas A&M represents annual expenditures of more than $780 million. That research creates new knowledge that provides basic, fundamental and applied contributions resulting in many cases in economic benefits to the state, nation and world. To learn more, visit http://vpr.tamu.edu.
Media contact: Lesley Henton, Division of Marketing & Communications at Texas A&M University; email@example.com, 979-845-5591
“Yes, he definitely brought his ‘Aggie-ness’ to Missouri,” laughs Texas A&M Professor James Womack of his long-time friend and colleague, University of Missouri Professor Jerry Taylor, a former Texas A&M faculty member. The two professors are part of a larger effort to fight Bovine Respiratory Disease Complex (BRDC), a problem in the cattle industry that can lead to animal suffering and significant economic losses.
BRDC is a respiratory disease in cattle much like a cold or flu in humans, says Womack, a Distinguished Professor in Texas A&M’s Department of Veterinary Pathobiology who studies human and animal genetics at the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences (CVM). “BRDC is considered the biggest health challenge to productivity in beef and dairy cattle,” he explains. “It used to be called shipping fever and because it occurred often when mixing cattle from different locations and putting them in close quarters. It spreads like a cold or flu. It’s a complex disease caused by multiple different species of bacteria and viruses. Symptoms include runny nose and difficulty breathing.”
The U.S. cattle industry sees annual losses of more than $690 million as a result of BRDC, according to the CVM. Cattle suffering from the disease may go for months with very limited eating and lose weight, Womack says, adding, “That’s a problem especially with beef cattle. They can be treated with antibiotics, but usually by then, profits are lost.”
But thanks to a $9.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, researchers are able to study prevention and treatment methods to fight BRDC.
Womack leads the research team, which includes Taylor, a Distinguished Professor of Animal Science and Genetics at Missouri’s Animal Science Research Center, along with researchers from several other universities and the USDA, known collectively as the Bovine Respiratory Disease Consortium.
In an effort to prevent the disease, the group is endeavoring to find the gene for resistance, says Womack. “We have known for some time that not all animals get the disease and there appears to be a genetic basis for the resistance. We now have the tools to identify the genes that are responsible for resistance and we can use them as DNA markers for selection for a more resistant breeding stock.”
In addition to preventing the disease, the knowledge gained in the research can also help in treatment. “Once you know the gene that is responsible, that gives you information about the mechanism − how the cattle deal with the pathogens − and that has the potential to lead to better therapeutics,” Womack notes.
The researchers are analyzing the DNA of more than 6,000 cattle located around the country and will develop selective breeding programs based on their findings.
Womack says he’s happy to partner with Taylor, who spent nearly 20 years as a faculty member in the Department of Animal Science at Texas A&M. “We’ve had a long-standing working relationship with him,” he notes. “The University of Missouri’s department is very strong scientifically, with expertise that complements ours.”
Now nearly halfway in to the five-year project, Womack says he is very optimistic. “We know that we are going to have some of the gene locations identified,” he predicts.
In addition to funding the research, the grant also helps fund undergraduate, veterinary and graduate education, according to the CVM.
About Research at Texas A&M University: As one of the world’s leading research institutions, Texas A&M is in the vanguard in making significant contributions to the storehouse of knowledge, including that of science and technology. Research conducted at Texas A&M represents total annual expenditures of more than $776 million. That research creates new knowledge that provides basic, fundamental and applied contributions resulting in many cases in economic benefits to the state, nation and world.
Media contact: Lesley Henton, Division of Marketing & Communications at Texas A&M University;
Both Texas A&M and the University of Missouri have acclaimed veterinary colleges, and the two schools have frequently collaborated on work involving animals. A current project could have a huge impact on the beef industry.
James Womack, the W.P. Luse Endowed and Distinguished Professor in Texas A&M’s College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, has partnered with Missouri colleague Jerry Taylor to work on a five-year grant to study bovine respiratory disease, commonly called BRD. It is a $9.2 million project to find ways to prevent the disease and funding comes from the Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.
For cattle owners, BRD is major threat – it is the leading cause of disease in beef and dairy cattle and it annually causes losses approaching $1 billion in the cattle industry.
“It’s a disease that can really be devastating for ranchers,” Womack says of the project. “It can sometimes be fatal, but the overall lack of production from cattle that have the disease is often the biggest concern.
“It is the No.1 health problem in the cattle industry. It affects about 10 percent of the cattle in the country, so when you consider all of the millions of cattle in the United States, it results in numbers that are staggering.”
Womack says he and Missouri’s Taylor will look at the disease from a genetic viewpoint and examine the causes of BRD, and will do DNA testing on at least 6,000 cattle.
“We’ll take DNA samples from cattle that have the disease, and also from those that don’t,” Womack explains. “Then we’ll look at variations on over 700,000 genomes and do a comparative study. We have known for years that individual cattle vary in their response to the pathogens that cause BRD and that much of that variation is genetic.
“We hope this project will be a model for the power of cooperation of research and educational institutions and animal industries to make basic discoveries, train professionals in the application of these discoveries, and to translate this new knowledge into economic gain along with improved animal health and welfare.”
Texas A&M and Missouri are key partners in the project, but other schools, such as Washington State, UC-Davis, New Mexico State, Colorado State and Wisconsin are also involved in the work.
“Partnering with Missouri and these schools has been excellent for all concerned,” Womack adds. “We are proud to be associated with the Missouri team and Jerry Taylor and their outstanding work.”
Taylor holds the Wurdack Chair in Animal Genomics at the University of Missouri.
Womack adds that Texas and Missouri are also collaborating on another cattle grant, this one also from the Department of Agriculture, totaling $5 million to study feed efficiency in cattle. The study will focus on specific bacteria that reside in the stomach of cattle and how these aid in food digestion.
Contact: Keith Randall, News & Information Services, at (979) 845-4644
When Dr. Eleanor Green arrived in Aggieland to assume the helm of the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM) as the first woman to serve as dean, she brought with her the knowledge of what it takes to create and grow an innovative educational experience for veterinary medical students.
In 1976, just three short years after graduating with her DVM from Auburn University, Green joined Mississippi State University as a founding faculty member of the college of veterinary medicine. Starting from the ground up, Green helped to design, build, and implement the facilities and curriculum that have become the only veterinary college in the State of Mississippi.
“When I arrived, a dean for the college had already been hired,” Green recalled. “It was truly a risk-taking venture for all of us as the college had not yet received approval or funding, so we all were taking a leap of faith to establish something we believed in. Those of us who were there at the beginning had big dreams for this college. We assembled experts from around the country to help design a dream facility – and it was built. It was incredible. We had the opportunity to develop an innovative and student-centered environment that would foster collaborative learning. To be involved in something of this magnitude from the beginning was an experience that I have carried with me throughout my career.”
Now, in 2012, Green has been using the visionary leadership gained from her time at Mississippi State to growing and developing the CVM at Texas A&M.
“Texas A&M has a tradition of excellence and developing the leaders of tomorrow,” said Green. “The commitment to the core values and the strong national and international reputation that Texas A&M had already established are what attracted me to Aggieland. When I arrived, there was a leadership team already in place that was committed to developing that same student-centered learning environment that we had started at Mississippi State. With support from the CVM faculty and staff, as well as the administration of the university and the Texas A&M System, we have been given the opportunity to pursue innovative approaches to veterinary medical education in Texas through curriculum enhancements and the built environment. We will be breaking ground in the near future on a new Veterinary Education Building and Small Animal Hospital Expansion. These facilities will enable us to integrate the very latest in teaching and learning technology into our curriculum which in turn enhances the educational experience of every student.”
Green noted that the initiatives to create new student-centered learning environments at both Mississippi State and at Texas A&M serve as opportunities to significantly impact the future of the veterinary profession.
“When you take the very best students, and educate them with the very latest technology in facilities designed to foster learning and collaboration, you begin to not just graduate practice-ready veterinarians, you also are developing leaders of character that will be well prepared to meet the changing demands of the veterinary profession,” Green said.