As part of the European Cattle Genetic Diversity Consortium, TNF Board Member Hans Lenstra conducted DNA analysis that supports historic reconstruction of the link between old Italian cattle breeds such as Chianina and Romagnola with local cattle living in the same area 1000 years earlier.

Analysis of DNA from archeological remains is a valuable tool to interpret the history of ancient animal populations. So far most studies of ancient DNA target mitochondrial DNA, which reveals maternal lineages, but only partially reveals the relationships of current breeds and ancient populations. In this study the researchers explored the feasibility of nuclear DNA analysis.

The aim of this study was to gain insight into history of Italian cattle by comparing 1000-year old cattle DNA of Italian origin with DNA from modern cattle breeds. DNA was extracted from bones collected in Ferento, an archeological site near Viterbo in central Italy inhabited since Bronze Age, but developed mainly during Roman and Medieval ages.

Amplification of 15 microsatellite markers with PCR products yielded genotypes for four markers. Expected heterozygosity was comparable with values of modern breeds, but observed heterozygosity was underestimated due to allelic loss.

Genetic distances suggested a position intermediate between (1) Anatolian, Balkan, Sicilian and South-Italian cattle and (2) the Iberian, North-European and Central-European cattle, but also a clear relationship with two central-Italian breeds, Chianina and Romagnola. This suggests that these breeds are derived from medieval cattle living in the same area. 

Chianina are one of the keystone cattle breeds used in the science based Aurochs backbreeding strategy developed by the True Nature Foundation.

Photo credits: Monica Arellano-Ongpin