The information yielded from sequencing may one day even lead to a "safer" cow by identifying breeds that are more susceptible to maladies such as "Mad Cow" disease (bovine spongiform encephalopathy), she added.
This is the first livestock genome to be published.
The two papers cover findings from two projects: the Bovine Genome Sequencing and Analysis Consortium, which mapped the genome, and the Bovine HapMap Consortium, which looked at genetic diversity among cattle.
The genome of the cow has at least 22,000 genes, which is almost identical to the number found in humans. Most of the genes are also identical so, for instance, both cows and humans have a gene for growth hormone, Taylor said.
Scientists were able to tell that cows have specialized genes that help them metabolize food. And both genomes may have adapted to each other.
"Humans drink a lot of cow's milk and that's resulted in a change in the human genome so we are lactose-tolerant," Taylor said.
In fact, the cow gene sequence and the chromosomal arrangements are more similar to humans than rodents. "That means when we try to understand human biology by studying genes in related organisms, we may be better off looking at the cow sequence for a lot of functions we study in mice and rats," Worley said.
Will cows replace white mice as in the lab? Probably not, but they may become more important in fields such as neurology, where humans and rodent systems diverge considerably, as well as metabolic diseases.
The papers also amassed a tremendous amount of historical information about the now-placid bovines.
"We were able to construct a tree of life that showed there were two focused areas [the Indian Subcontinent and the Fertile Crescent] about 10,000 to 11,000 years ago where humans figured out how to domesticate these animals," Taylor said. "These would have been about 2,000 pounds
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