Image credits: Aurochs cow - Daniel Foidl, Aurochs bull - Tom Hammond
The True Nature Foundation launched a programme called ‘Uruz’ to bring back the Aurochs, the original wild cattle species of Europe, together with international partners.
Goal of this project is to breed back an animal that resembles the Aurochs in every aspect: appearance, behaviour and even genetically. Uruz is the old Germanic word for Aurochs and seems fit for a project that has the goal to recreate the mighty wild cattle that roamed throughout Eurasia until four centuries ago.
The Uruz Project will use state of the art science to guide the breeding process. The DNA of the Aurochs has been completely reconstructed and will serve as the baseline for the reconstruction of the Aurochs. That DNA will be studied to see how characteristics of the animal are coded. The same DNA will tell us how large and how variable Aurochs populations were.
Knowledge about Aurochs DNA will also be used to change certain aspects of present day cattle DNA by means of so-called genome editing. Genome editing is a completely new field of science and will reduce the number of generations needed for breeding. It will reduce unwanted traits and it will eliminate wrong genes, so they cannot re-appear in later generations. The Project is also very thorough by reducing the amount of founder cattle breeds and only use a few carefully selected breeds which already have a strong resemblance to the Aurochs.
- A limited number of ancient cattle breeds are carefully selected, based upon their morphological resemblance to the Aurochs
- Only two breeds are included per breeding line for predictability and for long-term genetic and phenotypical stability.
- Each breeding line will start with crossbreeding a cattle breed (breed 1), which shows the highest proportion of Aurochs characteristics, with another breed (breed 2) which brings in features missing in breed 1, without compromising the aurochs features of breed 1.
- Breeding combinations are based on morphology, genetic inheritance of characteristics of each two breeds and the way they interact between the two breeds
- The breeding strategy is based on classic Mendelian rules of inheritance and tried and tested breeding approaches, which are commonly used in cattle breeding.
- Breeding combinations will also be optimized to decrease the bellcurve regarding characteristics, which will show in the resulting crossbred generation. This minimizes the amount of animals to be selected out and will result in more homogeneous herds of crossbreds.
- After careful research a list of selection criteria has been drawn up, which will be used to determine which individuals of a crossbred line will be used in further crossbred generations.
- First generation (F1) crossbred animals of breeding line 1 will be crossbred with F1 animals of breeding line 2, effectively bringing together all Aurochs characteristics in the next generation.
The research needed is being performed by an international consortium of scientific institutes and organizations, representing the best in geneticists, ancient geneticists and molecular biologists in this field of science.
Simultaneously, several nature organizations and other partners from Europe have gathered in the Uruz Project. Breeding herds will start in Germany, The Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Czech Republic, Poland and Russia. Other countries will follow in the next years.
The main reason why we should bring back the Aurochs is the fact that ecological restoration projects, such as are being undertaken by the True Nature Foundation and their partners, cannot be complete without bringing back those key elements that help shape and reshape wild landscapes. One of the so called keystone animal species is the Aurochs, a large animal that has dominated the landscape until just a few centuries ago. It is predicted that large herds of Aurochs will attract paying visitors and thus will contribute to local communities in dire need of new economic prospects for their area. The Aurochs will therefore be the flagship species for nature restoration in Europe.