Billionaire Bill Gates is investing £29million to breed a “supercow” based on British cattle.
He wants to take genes from our dairy herds and infuse them with DNA from tough African breeds to create a high- yielding animal that can thrive anywhere.
UK Holstein-Friesians produce 40 pints of milk a day on average – their African cousins manages just 3.5.
But African cattle survive blistering heat and eat much less food.
Before his trip to Edinburgh University to announce the research funding, Mr Gates said: “Livestock is magical. You can sell the output and that’s money for school fees. You can keep the output and that’s diet diversification.
“For more than a billion people living in the poorest countries, agriculture and livestock are a lifeline out of poverty.
“The science and research being led by the great minds here in Edinburgh are making huge strides in improving the health and productivity of livestock.”
One of the key goals of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation – the charity set up to distribute the majority of the billionaire’s wealth from his software giant Microsoft – is to help alleviate poverty in the developing world.
Edinburgh scientists will also use software to develop vaccines to save the lives of cattle hit by disease in tropical regions in research partly funded by the Department for International Development.
Mr Gates, worth an estimated £64billion, added: “The impact per dollar is super-high in this area.
“You can have a cow that is four times as productive with the same survivability. We could justify this on economic or health impacts – but we get both.”
Edinburgh’s tropical livestock genetics chief, Appolinaire Djikeng, said: “A lot of work like this started many years ago. It’s been a hit-and-miss thing though.
“We can now look at the parts of genomes we really need.”
Bill Gates is aware of eco-threats from increasing dairy production and its effect on the environment.
But, he added in a blog post: “It’s a fact that many poor people rely on cattle for both nutrition and income.”
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