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Pfizer buys into cattle gene testing

Agriculture.com Staff 03/20/2008 @ 2:36pm

Pfizer Animal Health has jumped into the expanding field of genetic marker technology in cattle. This week, Pfizer acquired two livestock genomics companies: Catapult Genetics, an Australian company that develops livestock DNA tests and gene markers; and Bovigen, LLC, which markets DNA technology, including Catapult’s products in the U.S., Canada, and South America.

Terms of the agreements were not disclosed. The acquisitions are expected to close by the end of this month. The two companies will continue to market products and services to their own customers as well as Pfizer Animal Health customers.

In gene marker testing, a snip of hair, a drop of blood, or a tissue sample is collected from an animal and analyzed for the presence or absence of certain genes that control traits such as meat tenderness or feed efficiency. Animals that are superior in those areas genetically can be retained for breeding.

In the case of Catapult/Bovigen, they have identified specific gene markers for the traits of meat tenderness, carcass quality grade, and feed efficiency, and they market the tests for those traits under the GeneSTAR brand name. Other genetic tests can prove or trace the parentage of an animal. Beef producers send in a hair sample (must include the root follicles) to a laboratory for analysis.

Industry research suggests that about 10% of cattle producers (commercial and seed stock) in the U.S. have already used DNA gene-marker technology on their herds, says Calvin Gunter of Bovigen. "We have a market share north of 80%," he says.

Nigel Evans, Pfizer's director of business innovations, says this merger will let his company access the best cattle genetic research and development from around the world. He's particularly excited about the potential to apply DNA tests to identify animals that have genetic disease resistance and enhanced immune response genes. "It will let producers and veterinarians better target medicines to animals that need it most."

Already, he says, researchers in Australia have found some lines of sheep are resistant to some parasites. That work will be extended to cattle, eventually allowing producers to retain breeding lines that naturally ward off worms or lice.

"The heritability of resistance to disease varies widely," says Evans. "Where we have high heritability, you might expect to find genetic markers. In cattle, a couple of those high heritability areas would be resistance to parasites, and respiratory disease."

"Looking backward at Bovigen, one of our limiting things has been the lack of resources to invest in disease resistance," says Gunter. "We now have that opportunity. We'll see success in that area more quickly than most people might think."

Pfizer Animal Health has jumped into the expanding field of genetic marker technology in cattle. This week, Pfizer acquired two livestock genomics companies: Catapult Genetics, an Australian company that develops livestock DNA tests and gene markers; and Bovigen, LLC, which markets DNA technology, including Catapult’s products in the U.S., Canada, and South America.

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