Why is African cattle so resilient?

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They are important for the economic and social life of many populations on the continent: oxen show remarkable adaptation to climatic and health constraints in Africa.

An international group of researchers wanted to understand where their resilience comes from. They therefore studied the genetic code of 172 cattle from 16 representative breeds such as the widespread sanga, zanga and zebu. The research results were published on Monday, September 28 in Nature Genetics.

In Africa, cattle are mainly the result of a cross between two very different species: Bos taurus and Bos indicus.

Traces of Bos taurus have been found in present-day Sudan, 7,000 BC. The animal then spread eastward and then westward of the continent. Bos indicus, commonly called zebu, arrived from Asia 700 years after the beginning of our era.

The crossing between the two species took place naturally for two or three centuries. According to the researchers, the current cattle from these crosses have inherited the traits of each of their ancestors, which has increased their adaptability tenfold: from Bos taurus, the African, resistance to hot and humid climates and better defense against sleeping sickness transmitted by the tsetse fly. Bos indicus, the Asian, has meanwhile transmitted resistance to hot and dry climates this time and to cross-attacks.

The researchers conclude their study by therefore recommending new crosses with exotic species to further improve livestock resistance in Africa and help ensure food security on the continent.

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