|Duane A. Lienemann|
UNL Extension Educator
MARC will be celebrating their Golden Anniversary! Can you believe it has been 50 years since its start? Actually the official recognition of the 50th anniversary will be June 4 at MARC with an invitation only event. However, there will be further celebration from June 18 -21, as MARC will partner with the University of Nebraska and the Nebraska Cattlemen to host the Beef Improvement Federation (BIF) in Lincoln Nebraska. The meeting will include a symposium celebrating the center with speakers taking about MARC and a beef producer panel discussion. A June 21 post conference tour following the 2014 Beef Improvement Federation's annual meeting and research symposium will bring participants to the USMARC, where they will visit two sites – the center's feedlot and pasture. Participants will view the large feed efficiency facility and hear from nutritionists and geneticists about what is going on in the facility and what scientists have learned from it. They also will hear from one of the scientists from the environmental management area that works on heat stress.
At the pasture, participants will see a wide array of different animals in the germ plasm evaluation project and hear about its results. More information on the BIF Conference can be found at http://www.bifconference.com/
Let’s take a look at the history of the Center in this week’s issue. For you that don’t know, MARC was officially authorized by Congress on June 16, 1964. The 34,000-acre site was originally a Naval Ammunition Depot during World War II. Large concrete bunkers still dot the landscape around the center. Now the bunkers are used primarily for storage or incineration. Since that time, scientists at the center and USDA Agricultural Research Service scientists at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln have grown its flagship genetics program and its germ-plasm evaluation project, which has evolved to be the largest breed comparison study over the last 35 to 40 years. The project also has information on how various breed crosses worked as composites, which has laid the foundation for commercial ranches around the country.
USMARC houses both UNL and federal employees and also is the home to the Great Plains Veterinary Educational Center. The center maintains 24,000 acres of pasture split evenly between warm- and cool-season grass, 1,900 acres of irrigated pasture, 2,500 acres of corn, 500 acres of the cropland that are rotated to soybean production, and two alternative crops grown for additional grazing. All of the buildings at the center were built after 1964. There are six research units at the center including animal health, environmental management, genetics and breeding, meat safety and quality, nutrition, and reproduction. 50 percent of their research is focused on beef, 30 percent on swine, and 20 percent on sheep.
Over time there has been a gradual shift toward more focus on basic research and understanding how things really work. Twenty years ago researchers started a large program in the field of genomics. During the last 15 years, capitalizing on its wealth of genetic diversity information, scientists began working in genomics and have been developing and refining genomic tools for use in selection by the industry. During that time period, the genomics group worked on the first case of BSE, using genomics to identify the origin of the animal or commonly called “The cow that stole Christmas.” It identified that particular cow was a Canadian animal, not a U.S. animal. A lot of the research they do now is directly tied to development in genomics. MARC is putting together a very rough roadmap of the DNA information for cattle, sheep, and swine and has progressed to where the center now have the full sequence with 3 million pairs of information, which now is considered a full roadmap. Scientists at the center are currently working on a project selecting for genetic markers in cattle.
One of the goals at the meat quality research at MARC has focused on tenderness, trying to understand the biology and breed effects on tenderness and improving the consistency of tenderness. That study led MARC into instrument grading research, which led to a camera system that all of the major packers use today. Instrumentation is now used both for the grading camera and for prediction of tenderness and is continually evolving, and it all started at USMARC.
MARC has also worked with food safety issues. The USDA has invested funds into trying to address food safety issues for consumers. The Meat Safety and Quality research unit was formed in 1983 and the first food safety science came to the center in 1988. Meat safety was not part of the center originally, but meat quality was part of the early evaluation studies. The unit was formed because of a growing realization that safety was an important aspect of meat production. The food safety program really began with an outbreak of E. coli O157:H7. It has evolved into a lot of work on detection of pathogens all the way to sequencing bacteria genomes. Scientists are now sequencing the genomes of E. coli and Salmonella to better understand the genetics behind antibiotic resistance, as well as to provide genomic DNA diagnostic tools to screen meat products for those pathogens. A lot of the advances we have had with our livestock industry are linked to USMARC. Join me in saluting the Center and all the dedicated scientists who all join to make us the best in the world!
The preceding information comes from the research and personal observations of the writer which may or may not reflect the views of UNL or UNL Extension. For more further information on these or other topics contact D. A. Lienemann, UNL Extension Educator for Webster County in Red Cloud, (402) 746-3417 or email to: firstname.lastname@example.org or go to the website at: www.webster.unl.edu/home