Genetics: Cattle, cheese and conservation

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Indigenous people from the Pantanal region in Brazil have teamed up with scientists to rescue specialized bovine genes and a prized traditional cheese. The Pantanal Bioma Cheese Project ( is in line with a worldwide trend in agricultural practice to foster nutrition and health through the conservation of natural ecosystems.

The remarkable Pantaneiro cattle, introduced some 400 years ago by the Portuguese, are genetically resistant to trypanosomiasis, myiasis, worms and ticks, and have survived the region's extreme ecological conditions, ranging from floods and droughts to rough native pastures and jaguar predation. Intermixing with commercial breeds has meant that only 500 of these highly adapted animals are left in genetic isolation. Also under threat is the Nicola cheese prepared from their milk.

Scientists propose a certification of origin for the cattle, underpinned by marker-assisted selection of genetic polymorphisms associated with the cows' milk composition and high yield, and with their 'thrifty' phenotype. Embryos and semen from selected animals will be available to local farmers for breeding.

This will help to save these cattle from extinction and help to conserve the life and traditions of the Pantanal people. The Pantanal Bioma is included in UNESCO's World Heritage and Man and the Biosphere programmes.

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  1. Pantanal Bioma Cheese Project Consortium, Aquidauana, Brazil.

    • Sergio Ulhoa Dani &
    • Marcus Vinicius Morais de Oliveira

Competing financial interests

S. U. D. is a shareholder in Excegen Genética, a Brazilian company taking part in the Pantanal Bioma Cheese Project.

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