Womack Awarded $1 Million Grant For Cattle Genome Research
February 11, 2005
(COLLEGE STATION) Dr. James E. Womack, a Distinguished Professor
and Director of the Center for Animal Biotechnology and Genomics at
Texas A&M University's College of Veterinary Medicine and
Biomedical Sciences, has been awarded a $1 million research grant
from the Robert J. Kleberg and Helen C. Kleberg Foundation for
cattle genome research. Womack was the recipient of the prestigious
2001 Wolf Prize in agriculture and is a member of the National
Academy of Sciences USA.
Domestic cattle have a rich history as animal models for the
study of human medicine. By comparing the human genome with the
genomes of different organisms such as cattle and mice, researchers
can better understand the structure and function of human genes
that can lead to the development of new strategies in the battle
against human and animal diseases.
"This research will help us understand what makes bovine breeds
and individuals different with respect to reproduction, lactation,
growth, bone structure, fat deposition, altitude and heat
tolerance, and resistance to specific pathogens which will be
invaluable in clarifying physiological processes important to human
health," says Womack.
"We'll be focusing on understanding the differences in specific
genes in cattle that show a resistance or susceptibility to
potentially damaging pathogens to the United States and Texas
cattle industry," Womack says. A major state of urgency for this
research now exists due to the discovery of two animals with Bovine
Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) or mad cow disease in the U.S. and
the increasing threat of agricultural bioterrorism.
"The grant allows the scientists in the Center for Animal
Biotechnology and Genomics at Texas A&M University to begin to
take advantage of the flow of information generated from the $53
million bovine sequencing initiative currently underway at the
Baylor College of Medicine Human Genome Sequencing Center in
Houston," says Womack. "Valuable sequence data are already being
generated, and the first draft of the bovine genome sequence was
publicly announced in October, 2004."
This exciting new field of biological research called
comparative genomics allows researchers like Womack and others
around the world to efficiently use an organism's genome in
comparative studies. "In simple terms, we will be overlaying the
bovine genes on the genes of humans and mice and comparing the
differences not only between species but within the species,"
The goal of the research, says Womack, is to identify specific
gene variations in selected breeds of cattle that include both
European and Asian breeds. "We will be targeting resistance and
susceptibility to diseases of interest including BSE and Johne's
Disease as well as those that pose a potential bioterrorism threat
such as Foot and Mouth and Rift Valley Fever."
Womack says he will be employing graduate students,
post-doctoral students and additional staff to work with him on the
project. "We have most of the equipment we will need, so the
majority of the grant will be used for staffing and supplies."
One project specifically funded by the grant will involve
developing better computational tools to analyze information known
as bio-informatics," says Womack. "This project will be under the
direction of Drs. David Adelson and Christine Elsik in the
Department of Animal Science.
Womack has received many prestigious honors and belongs to
numerous professional associations in the field of genetics. He is
the W.P. Luse Professor of Pathobiology in the College of
Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. In addition, he is a
member of the Faculty of Genetics and holds a joint academic
appointment in the Department of Medical Biochemistry and Genetics.
He serves as Coordinator of the USDA-CSREES National Cattle Genome
Project, is the current President of the International Society for
Animal Genetics, and past President of the American Genetics
Association and the Texas Genetics Society. He was the recipient of
the 1994 CIBA prize for research in animal health.
Womack has published, with students and associates, more than
300 peer reviewed articles in scientific journals. His research
interests are comparative genomics, mapping the bovine genome and
the genetic basis of disease resistance in mammals.
The research grant is officially a two-year project, but will
probably be stretched over a four to five year period, according to
Womack. Research is expected to begin within the next two
Angela G. Clendenin
Director, Communications & Public Relations
Ofc - (979) 862-2675
Cell - (979) 739-5718
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