Researchers determine genetic ancestry of the Texas Longhorn


Elisabeth Dillon

Researchers say the Texas longhorn has an ancestry that can be traced back thousands of years to the Middle East and India. 

Mark Carrion

While students may be familiar with the sight of Bevo at football games and rallies, several UT researchers took a look at a side of the Texas longhorn seldom seen: its genes.

The research group, comprised of biology professor David Hillis, Ph.D. candidate Emily Jane McTavish and researchers from the University of Missouri-Columbia analyzed thousands of genetic markers of the Texas longhorn. The group determined the longhorn has a global ancestry that can be traced back over thousands of years to the Middle East and India. 

“We were studying the ancestry of a group of cattle descended from cattle brought by Spanish colonists [to the New World] in the late 1400s,” McTavish said. “Texas Longhorns are descendants of these cattle.”

“I was working with a very large data set, 50,000 markers for 1,500 individuals,” McTavish said. “It is challenging to work with and analyze this much data.”

The research group determined that approximately 85 percent of the longhorn’s genome is “taurine,” descended from the aurochs, an ancient ancestor of cattle that were domesticated in the Middle East between 8,000 to 10,000 years ago.

“Genomic data can allow us to understand the evolutionary history of organisms,” McTavish said.

Hillis specializes in the breeding of Texas longhorns at the Double Helix Ranch, which has three locations in Texas. 

“Texas longhorns are colorful, diverse and exhibit complex social behaviors,” Hillis said. “They use their horns for protection and social interactions. All of these traits make them interesting and fun to be around.”

For the research group, the analysis of the Texas longhorn genome emphasizes the importance of genomes in the field of biology.

“It is fascinating that Texas Longhorns have a long and complex history,” Hillis said, “that connects them to both of the major domestication events of cattle, some 10,000 years ago.”

Printed on Tuesday, April 2, 2013 as: Researchers decode longhorn genomes