Figure - Pantaneiro cattle in their element.
Indigenous people from the Pantanal region in Brazil have teamed up with scientists to develop the Pantanal Bioma Cheese Project. One of the scientists' tasks is the marker assisted selection (MAS) of the Pantaneiro cattle for genetic polymorphisms associated with milk protein and fat composition, as well as MAS for genes associated with the 'thrifty' phenotype of these cattle.
The Pantaneiro cattle have been naturally selected in the Pantanal Bioma for some 400 years since their introduction by the Portuguese. These cattle are believed to be resistant against trypanosomiasis, myiasis, worms and ticks. They are also able to survive under the exacting ecological conditions of the Pantanal ranging from floods and droughts to native pastures and jaguar predation.
The Pantaneiro population eventually grew to the thousands, and then dropped to a few hundred. Intermixing with commercial breeds of cattle represents the major threat of extinction for the highly adapted Pantaneiro cattle. Today, only 500 animals are left in genetic isolation in two main herds. Since the true ‘Nicola cheese’ is prepared with the milk of Pantaneiro cows, this traditional sort of cheese from the Pantanal is also threatened with extinction.
The project scientists believe that a certification of origin programme, including MAS and multiplication of a dairy breed of the Pantaneiro cattle may help save these thrifty cattle from extinction, and also contribute to the conservation of the Pantanal Bioma and the life and traditions of its people.
Hundreds of Pantaneiro cattle will be genotyped for gene variants with high impact on milk composition and yield, as well as gene variants associated with the thrifty phenotype of these cattle. Genetic material including embryos and semen from selected animals will be made available to farmers.
The Pantanal Bioma Cheese Project is in line with the Agrarwende, a trend in agricultural practices to foster responsibility towards global nutrition and health through the conservation of natural ecosystems. The project capitalizes on the fact that the Pantanal Bioma is a Biosphere Reserve included in UNESCO’s World Heritage and MAB-Man and Biosphere programme of the United Nations.
The Pantanal Bioma Cheese Project is coordinated by Prof. Dr. Marcus Vinicius Morais de Oliveira from the Universidade Estadual de Mato Grosso do Sul (UEMS). Further institutions participating in the project include: Associação dos Criadores de Bovinos Pantaneiros, Universidade Federal da Grande Dourados (UFGD), Universidade Federal da Bahia (UFB), Embrapa Pantanal and Excegen Genetica SA.
Dani SU, Oliveira MVM. Genetics: cattle, cheese and conservation. Nature 502, 448 (24 October 2013) doi:10.1038/502448c. Published online 23 October 2013 (http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v502/n7472/full/502448c.html).