Animal Science, Department of


Document Type


Date of this Version



Batt et al. BMC Genomics (2024) 25:417


Open access.


Background Between 2020 and 2022, eight calves in a Nebraska herd (composite Simmental, Red Angus, Gelbvieh) displayed exercise intolerance during forced activity. In some cases, the calves collapsed and did not recover. Available sire pedigrees contained a paternal ancestor within 2–4 generations in all affected calves. Pedigrees of the calves’ dams were unavailable, however, the cows were ranch-raised and retained from prior breeding seasons, where bulls used for breeding occasionally had a common ancestor. Therefore, it was hypothesized that a de novo autosomal recessive variant was causative of exercise intolerance in these calves.

Results A genome-wide association analysis utilizing SNP data from 6 affected calves and 715 herd mates, followed by whole-genome sequencing of 2 affected calves led to the identification of a variant in the gene PYGM (BTA29:g.42989581G > A). The variant, confirmed to be present in the skeletal muscle transcriptome, was predicted to produce a premature stop codon (p.Arg650*). The protein product of PYGM, myophosphorylase, breaks down glycogen in skeletal muscle. Glycogen concentrations were fluorometrically assayed as glucose residues demonstrating significantly elevated glycogen concentrations in affected calves compared to cattle carrying the variant and to wildtype controls. The absence of the PYGM protein product in skeletal muscle was confirmed by immunohistochemistry and label-free quantitative proteomics analysis; muscle degeneration was confirmed in biopsy and necropsy samples. Elevated skeletal muscle glycogen persisted after harvest, resulting in a high pH and dark-cutting beef, which is negatively perceived by consumers and results in an economic loss to the industry. Carriers of the variant did not exhibit differences in meat quality or any measures of animal well-being.

Conclusions Myophosphorylase deficiency poses welfare concerns for affected animals and negatively impacts the final product. The association of the recessive genotype with dark-cutting beef further demonstrates the importance of genetics to not only animal health but to the quality of their product. Although cattle heterozygous for the variant may not immediately affect the beef industry, identifying carriers will enable selection and breeding strategies to prevent the production of affected calves.