An international collaboration identifies new genes influencing beef production

Beef currently accounts for 21% of the world's meat consumption, placing it third after poultry and pork. It therefore plays a crucial role in the global food system, with great economic and cultural importance in many countries. However, its production has a high environmental impact, mainly due to greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change. In order to reconcile the growing demand for meat with the need to reduce its environmental footprint, it is imperative to adopt more sustainable practices.

Published on 01 December 2023

illustration An international collaboration identifies new genes influencing beef production

Breeding can make a significant contribution to this goal of sustainability. A first step may be to identify the genes and their variants that influence the various traits linked to meat production. Specific genetic analyses, generally carried out within a given population of animals, can reveal regions of the genome containing these genes. The results of these analyses can then be combined in a 'meta-analysis' that brings together data from several populations, increasing the power of detection of the genes involved and improving the resolution of their localization. This approach leads to more complete and accurate results, and therefore to better identification of the genes and gene variants associated with the expression of the traits of interest.  

As part of the European BovReg project, meta-analyses were carried out to gain a better understanding of the genetic bases of five groups of essential traits in cattle production (milk and meat production, health, feed efficiency and reproduction). With regard to meat production, INRAE researchers and partners from Switzerland, Germany and Canada worked together to gather data from more than 50,000 animals coming from 15 pure- or cross-bred populations, taking into account 30 million variants in the bovine genome. These meta-analyses, carried out on an unprecedented scale for traits related to growth, morphology and carcass characteristics, identified numerous genes and genetic variants associated with these traits. In particular, this approach has revealed regions of the genome not identified in previous population-based analyses, enabling the genes and genetic variants involved to be better targeted. Some of these genes were already known, such as the myostatin gene, certain mutations of which are responsible for muscular hypertrophy. But the meta-analysis has also revealed the effect of other genes that were previously little or unknown, such as a gene encoding a protein that potentially regulates the expression of a large number of genes and has a strong effect on many traits associated with beef production.

These discoveries help to better identify the genes that influence traits linked to meat production in cattle. They pave the way for future research into improving production efficiency through animal selection. More generally, they show that, by making it possible to combine large datasets, international collaborations can speed up the production of knowledge, in this case on the genetic determinism of traits that are important for moving towards more sustainable beef production.

Reference: Sanchez M.-P., Tribout T., Kadri N., Chitneedi P.K., Maak S., Hoze C., Boussaha M., Croiseau P., Philippe R., Spengeler M., Kuhn C., Wang Y., Li C., Plastow G., Pausch H., Boichard D. Sequence-based meta-analyses for beef production traits. Genetics Selection Evolution, 55:70.

Animal Genetics Division


Marie-Pierre Sanchez researcherAnimal Genetics and Integrative Biology (GABI) joint research unit



Learn more


H2020 GEroNIMO: thinking about the breeding of tomorrow

Within the framework of the European Horizon 2020 program, the “Genome and Epigenome eNabled breedIng in MOnogastrics” (GEroNIMO) project, involving teams from the Genetics, Physiology and Breeding Systems (GenPhySE) laboratory at the INRAE Occitanie-Toulouse center and the Animal Genetics and Integrative Biology (GABI) laboratory in Jouy-en-Josas, has been awarded 7 million euros over 5 years. This Europe-wide multi-actor project studies ways to improve genetic selection in animal breeding and to conserve genetic and epigenetic diversity, in order to provide new knowledge and perspectives to stakeholders, while taking into account current issues associated with sustainable development.

21 June 2021


Sustainably feeding the world requires efficient nitrogen use

Two researchers, one from Paris Cité University and the other from INRAE, modelled the Earth’s capacity to feed the global human population and found marked variation in the resulting estimates. Several factors can explain the seven-fold differences they observed, including dietary regimes, land use patterns, and nitrogen management, with nitrogen use efficiency emerging as particularly important. Livestock farming has significant impacts on land use, nitrogen loss, and organic fertilizer availability. Indeed, the researchers demonstrated that livestock farming can maximize global feeding capacity, provided that livestock numbers do not outstrip sustainable sources of animal feed, namely grasslands and crop residues.

28 September 2023