AUSTIN, Texas (KXAN) - The Texas Longhorn is a direct descendant of the first cattle in the New World, brought over by Christopher Columbus in 1493.
The discovery was made after colleagues at the University of Texas and University of Missouri analyzed almost 50,000 genetic markers from 58 cattle breeds.
"It's a real Texas story, an American story," said Emily Jane McTavish, a doctoral student at UT in the lab of biology professor David Hillis.
The study of the longhorn genome showed the path of human and cattle migration. It was traced to Columbus' second voyage to the New World, and farther back to the ancient domestication of the aurochs, the extinct ancestor of domestic cattle, in the Middle East and India.
According to the study, approximately 85 percent of the longhorn genome is ‘taurine,' which descended from the aurochs in the Middle East some 8,000 to 10,000 years ago.
As a result, the longhorn looks similar to more pure taurine breeds like Holstein, Hereford and Angus, which came to Europe from the Middle East.
The remaining 15 percent of the genome is ‘indicine,' from the domestication of the aurochs in India. These cattle, which have a hump at the back of their neck, moved through Africa, and then north towards Europe.
"It's consistent with the Moorish invasions from the 8th to the 13th centuries," Hillis said. "The Moors brought cattle with them and brought these African genes, and of course the European cattle were there as well. All those influences come together in the cattle of the Iberian Peninsula."
After arriving in the New World, most of the cattle went feral, and under the pressures of natural selection, re-evolved ancient survival traits. Their longer horns also allowed them to fend off wild predators.
The cattle, drawing from their indicine heritage, became more adapt to surviving in hotter and drier climates. The longhorns arrived in what is now Texas near the end of the 17th century.
"It's another chapter in the story of a breed that is part of the history of Texas," Hillis said.
It wasn't until after the Civil War when Texans began rounding up the wild herds and supplying beef to the rest of the country.
The study, published this week in the '"Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences," turned up the most comprehensive analysis to date, and was funded in part by the Cattlemen's Texas Longhorn Conservancy. The group helped scientists get access to samples used by ranchers.
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