The ancestry of domesticated cattle proves more complex than previously thought, reports a paper published today in the open access journal Genome Biology. The first nuclear genome sequence from an ancient wild ox reveals that some modern domestic cow breeds, including the Scottish Highland and Irish Kerry, had wild ancestors that were British, as well as Asian.
The aurochs, Bos primigenius, is an extinct wild ox species that ranged across the grasslands of Eurasia and North Africa 11,000 years ago. Domestication of aurochs gave rise to two major groups of cattle; Bos taurus and Bos indicus.
Previous studies have shown that European B. taurus are descended from western Asian populations of aurochs. However, little was known about the relationship between domesticated cattle and wild aurochs in Europe, and how wild populations contributed to the evolutionary history of the cows that graze our fields today.
To build a clearer picture of the ancestry of European cattle breeds, scientists from University College Dublin extracted genetic material from a bone of a 6,750 year old wild British aurochs discovered in a cave in Derbyshire, England. They then sequenced its complete genome - its genetic blueprint - and compared it with the genomes of 81 domesticated B. taurus and B. indicus animals, and DNA marker information from more than 1,200 modern cows.