Udderly Crucial

June 15, 2009
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Cows give us milk. That's something we have known since we were old enough to drink it. Then as we grew older, we learned exactly how the milk was obtained from cows and what else these bovines provide: ice cream, grilled cheese sandwiches, our T-bone steaks.
But now, after six years of study and 300 scientists' research, we have learned even more about the species. Cows are providing new understanding to the human world as we have unraveled the genetic sequence of the species and realized the benefits such knowledge provides.
In a herd (pun intended) of research papers and journals, scientists are reporting their findings and outlining the genome of the cow, which shows surprisingly similar structures to that of humans.
Cattle and humans have approximately 80 percent of their genes in common and are more similar in chromosome organization than we are to rats and mice, the typical animals used in experiments for human development.
This new discovery can only be seen as a plus for humans and cows as well. By understanding the connections between the two species, similarities that once seemed impossible, we can reap the benefits by developing new treatments and preventing diseases that affect both humans and cattle.
In fact, duplications found in domestic cattle regarding immunity, metabolism, digestion and reproduction have also been registered in humans to be linked to a variety of diseases. An increased understanding of the bovine genome would, therefore, have a high probability of leading to deeper knowledge and better treatments to human and cattle diseases.
Perhaps in a more everyday sense, researchers claim that these findings will better the quality and safety of our ice cream and steaks—in general, beef and dairy products. Though some may argue that this would denote "unnatural," genetically engineered milk, the reality is that the improvements to be received from these discoveries outweigh the accusations that would arise from moral debate. There are no hormones produced by humans to alter the milk from cows linked to these changes, nor is there any tangible "engineering" involved. Rather, the engineering comes from brainpower and discovery as scientists further their understanding of the human and animal worlds, as well as the developing correlations between them.
Genome sequencing has already yielded many positive outcomes, from advancements in understanding of reproductive biology and genetic analysis to earlier and more effective treatments to diseases. The critical social issues raised concerning the genome project include privacy concerns and ethical disputes. However, knowledge of personal genetics enables more accurate preventive techniques and earlier diagnoses, which would only serve to benefit humans and animals. Furthering the project to animal studies may inflame animal rights arguments, but in the end there is no strong evidence of any harmful aspects of the ongoing genome project to the animals. The studies have gone directly to aid the species under study as well as humans.
In a larger perspective, the benefits from comparing a general genome of humans to that of an animal species, as with cows, are what makes further genome sequencing "udderly" important for comprehensive developments of the global ecosystem.





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