Genetic differentiation of primitive cattle breeds illustrates aurochs admixture and change in recent demography

Published on
September 28, 2016

The genomic composition of our European cattle populations is also shaped by gene flow between domestic and aurochs populations in addition to various factors such as ancient human migrations, isolation by distance, cross-breeding. That is what researchers from Wageningen University & Research found in their study of contribution of aurochs (distinct ancestor of domestic cattle) in genetic differences of primitive cattle breeds.

Domestication of taurine cattle initiated approximately 10,000 years ago in the Near East from a wild aurochs (Bos primigenius) population which was followed by their dispersal through migration of agriculturalists to Europe. Since aurochs coexisted with domestic cattle until the beginning of the 17th century, there is a possibility that Gene flow between aurochs and domestic taurine cattle might have taken place. Therefore, researchers from WUR investigate contribution of aurochs in genetic differences of primitive cattle breeds.

Primitive cattle breeds

The term Primitive cattle refers to the British-Irish and southern-eastern European breeds such as White park, Pajuna, Boskarin etc. that display more common features of their wild ancestors  (aurochs) compared to commercial breeds such as Brown swiss and HF. Genetic differences of such primitive cattle breeds including the present demography have never been investigated extensively.

Change in recent demography and genomic differentiation

For this project,   the demographic history and genetic differences across primitive European cattle breeds were investigated. Results suggest that the primitive Balkan-Italy cattle population possess some genetic component of the Indian cattle, indicating cross-breeding with Indian cattle in the distant past.  Moreover, recent reduction in population size of several cattle breeds such as Mirandesa, Maltese etc. was reported. Results also indicate that in addition to factors such as ancient human migrations, isolation by distance and cross-breeding, gene flow between domestic and aurochs populations also has shaped genomic composition of European cattle populations. The result of the present study may also contribute to production of the new synthetic breeds selected for aurochs-like primitive features tailored to the requirement of landscape management.