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Modern genetics and history meet in researcher Maria Kjetså’s work in the interdisciplinary project "3MC – Nordic mountain cattle".

Modern genetics and history meet in researcher Maria Kjetså’s work in the interdisciplinary project "3MC – Nordic mountain cattle" coordinated by NordGen. Knowing the past and the present on multiple levels can help preserving the native northern breeds for the future.

The multidisciplinary research team of the project “

3MC - Nordic Mountain Cattle

”, which is coordinated by NordGen, includes archaeologists, cultural researchers, geneticists, and game developers. NordGen scientist Maria Kjetså is part of a research team consisting of experts working together to gather and disseminate knowledge about the common origins and cultural heritage of the Norwegian, Finnish and Swedish mountain cattle breeds. The aim is to raise awareness for a more sustainable use of the now threatened breeds that are at risk of being outcompeted by more commercial breeds.

Genetic Material

Maria Kjetså says she has always been a friend of animals, and she has been interested in local domestic animal breeds for as long as she remembers. In her career as a geneticist, she has already studied sheep, salmon, goats and pigs. And why not. After all, the material of a genetic researcher, DNA, is similar in all species. – The focus in breeding often can be on breeding bigger and better. I’m interested in breeding for better health, and I've studied how genetic diversity can be preserved as well as possible when animals are bred by genomic selection, Kjetså said. Kjetså studies the pedigrees of all three northern indigenous cattle breeds; Norwegian Coloursided Troender and Nordland Cattle (STN), Swedish fjällko and Northern Finncattle. The aim is to obtain new information on the level of inbreeding within the breeds as well as crossbreeding between the three and to develop new ways to protect their genetic diversity.

A Place in Food Production

Maria Kjetså has observed an increased demand in locally produced food and believes that the northern native breeds may have a good future and a place in food production. – With climate change and the current global political climate, countries producing food with their own resources is becoming more and more important. The Nordic Mountain Cattle breeds have one thing in common – they are all adapted to the Nordic climate and can thrive on a lower quality diet compared to commercial cattle breeds. Documents show that cattle survived the harsh winters on the coastal areas of Norway on a diet consisting of more than 50% fish waste, kelp and seaweed. – Of course, this is not optimal for their health, and not a recommendation as for what you should feed your cows with. But this shows that these cows are survivors and have great potential to utilise local feed sources that are not utilised today.

Better Breeding Choices

The results of the 3MC project are already of interest to breeding associations, and Kjetså is pleased that the information will be taken into practice. – I'm trying my best to help the three sister breeds thrive. With the help of my research, we will get to know both the past and the present status of the breeds, and through the project we will be able to find the full picture both through history, genetics and through knowledge of the cultural heritage, she said and continues: – This work is important, because by knowing the past and the present on multiple levels, we can make better breeding choices to safeguard the breeds for the future and show the world just how important it is to conserve these native cattle breeds.

The project is funded with a grant from EU Interreg Nord and Länsstyrelsen Norrbotten 2019-2022 and has 5 Nordic partners. NordGen is the coordinator for the project as well as responsible for investigating pedigree and population kinship, dissemination of results and implementation of applications. NordGen will also be responsible for establishing the network of preservers.