On the trail of the beef twinning gene

Brian Kirkpatrick, Professor
Department of Animal Science
UW-Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences
Phone (608) 263-4323, (608) 263-4319

Brian Kirkpatrick discusses the benefits of twins in beef cattle.

3:04 – Total Time

0:15 – Advantage to beef having twins
0:42 – Science behind the research
1:11 – Additional benefits
1:24 – Connection to human reproductive health
1:54 – What started this genetic research
2:28 – Future outcomes
2:55 – Lead out


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Sevie Kenyon:
Brian, what’s the interest in studying twinning in beef cattle?

Brian Kirkpatrick: For beef cattle production, if you could have a cow produce two calves, obviously, you’d have more calves to market. You could do everything right in terms of management of cattle, in terms of reproduction, and the best you would ever do in the absence of twinning is one calf per cow. Well, if the cow has twins you’re greatly increasing the number of calves that are produced and increasing your revenue.

Sevie Kenyon: What’s the curiosity in the science of this study?

Brian Kirkpatrick: In the case that we’re working with right now we have a single gene that has a very large effect on twinning rate and ovulation rate, and so, one of the curiosities is, “How does that gene work? How does it affect the number of eggs that are shed and having twins?” We have mapped that gene to a narrow area and we still haven’t figured out what the gene is or what the mutation is that’s causing that effect. Hopefully, in the near future, we’ll figure that out.

Sevie Kenyon: Brian, can you speculate a little bit on some other benefits of knowing about this twinning gene in beef?

Brian Kirkpatrick: It should provide us some insight into genetic variation between beef cows, getting pregnant and maintaining pregnancy regardless of whether they have twins or singles.

Sevie Kenyon: Brian, why would people be interested in this?

Brian Kirkpatrick: If you aren’t interested in cattle you might be interested from the standpoint of human reproductive health. It’s interesting that in cases like this where scientists have identified genes that have a large effect on ovulation rate in species like sheep, or now in cattle, those genes then become targets for study in humans and in some cases explain some of the variation that we see between human families and the incidence of fraternal twins.

Sevie Kenyon: Brian, what first got you started on this line of research?

Brian Kirkpatrick: This is something that I’ve been working on for a number of years, more than 20 years actually. Actually, I grew up on a farm in eastern Iowa, we had a beef cow herd and I remember cows in the herd that had twins and I was always fascinated by that. They did well and it’s like, “Why can’t all the cows have twins?” So, it’s been something that’s been an interest going way back to when I was a kid, I guess.

Sevie Kenyon: If you were to look into your crystal ball, could you maybe describe what you see five, ten years down the road with this research?

Brian Kirkpatrick: My hope is that in another ten years we’ll have some basic information about genetics that relate to success in carrying twins to term so that, for the beef cattle industry, the twinning would not be viewed as a negative but as something that would be a positive and that, perhaps we would have more uptake of twinning. There are some people right now in the beef cattle industry who are trying to use twinning in beef cattle production but they’re a definite minority.

Sevie Kenyon: We’ve been visiting with Brian Kirkpatrick, Department of Animal Science, University of Wisconsin in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, Madison, WI and I’m Sevie Kenyon.

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