Why The Texas Longhorn Has Such Grit

Researchers at the University of Texas mapped the genome of the Texas Longhorn and discovered its heritage is more complicated than previously thought.
Tue March 26, 2013 2:00 pm
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Researchers at the University of Texas have successfully mapped the genome of that great bovine symbol of our state, the Texas Longhorn, and discovered that their roots can be traced backed thousand of years to the other side of the world. The findings were published this week in the scientific journal  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 

Biology professor David Hillis, doctoral student Emily Jane McTavish, and their colleagues at the University of Missouri-Columbia analyzed approximately 50,000 genetic markers from 58 cattle breeds to reconstruct the genetic history of our state animal.

Like most modern residents of this country, the Longhorn endured a lengthy journey before landing here. “It’s a real Texas story, an American story,” said McTavish in UT’s press release.

The Longhorn’s immigration to the New World can be traced to Christopher Columbus’s second expedition in 1493, but their story doesn’t begin there. The researchers’ new findings reveal that those horny foreigners have a lineage that stretches back to the first domestication of wild aurochs in the Middle East and India between 8-10,000 years ago.

The assumption in times past was that our beloved Longhorns were “pure” descendents of Iberian cattle, Spanish breeds which were themselves descendants of the Middle East. “It’s consistent with the Moorish invasions from the 8th to the 13th centuries,” said Hillis. “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.”

In typical Texan style, the ‘horns are more complicated than that. The new research reveals that, while roughly 85 percent of the Longhorn genome is “taurine” descended from such Middle Eastern breeds as Holstein, Hereford and Angus the rest of its heritage is from farther east. 

The other 15 percent is composed of “indicine” genetic heritage, which is derived from breeds domesticated in ancient India. Indicine cattle have a distinctive hump at the back of their neck, which shows up in Longhorn cattle

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