North American Bison Registry

Susan Maass
Reprinted from Bison World, July/August/September, 1999


The North American Bison Registry has switched from a red blood cell (RBC) based registry to a DNA based registry. The process will take place over a period of time in order to have a smooth transition. Using DNA has many advantages over the older RBC test and these are outlined.


On May 12, the National Bison Association Board of Directors voted to approve the North American Bison Registry (NABR) committee recommendation for a new contract with Stormont Laboratories, moving from a Red Blood Cell (RBC) based registry to deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). This transition has been in process for the past two and a half years. In August of 1998 at Davenport, Iowa, the Board voted to have the NABR proceed to a DNA-based registry. Since that time, the NABR committee, chaired by Susan Maass and directed by Orana Wood has worked hard to insure a smooth transition from RBC to DNA. Under the direction of Sam Albrecht, the NABR sent out requests for proposals to four bovine laboratories in early October. We needed to knowthat the DNA test proposed was sound for parentage testing, tested for exclusion probabilities with the highest possible efficiency, and that this test would include additional microsatellites, for use in very closely related matings. Consideration for costs, carry-over of bison already registered, and incorporating a working relationship between the USA and Canadian registries were of prime importance. Also of significance to the registry body was to continue to work in correlation with ISAG (International Society of Animal Genetics) standards of criteria that remain in the public domain, to select a laboratory that could fulfill all of our requirements, and to continue to work in congruence with our public herds which have supported, and continue to support, studies on bison through genetic research.

The NABR committee members include: Vice-chair-woman Bentley Harper, members Klaus Neuschaefer and Ron Walker. Ron Walker was asked to join the committee following the January meeting, having considerable interest from the viewpoint of the public herds, as manager of Custer State Park. Klaus Neuschaefer has participated on the committee for a number of years, having computer talents as a full-time occupation, and being affiliated with Lay Valley Bison, a registered herd. Bentley Harper of Rock Creek Bison, also a 100% NABR herd, has specific interest in seedstock selection and genetics. Chairwoman Susan Maass of Colorado Bison Company, succeeded her husband, Merle, as Chairperson in 1985, when Merle moved on to President of the former American Bison Association. Board liaison to the NABR is Vice President of the NBA, Paul Lyman, of River Bend Bison, also a 100% NABR registered herd. The aforementioned persons have all attended genetic conferences, public herd symposiums, and more recently, the Montana State University, which was attended by Executive Director, Sam Albrecht.

Stormont Laboratories were chosen for the following reasons:

  1. They were able to refine the test, published in June of 1998 in Belgium, to provide us a DNA parentage test within 99.99 percent efficacy using both parents.
  2. Their test remains in the public domain, as required by ISAG, and includes several of the microcatollitic (Motato) that are already approved by ISAG Committee on Bovine of which Bob Morris, CEO of Stormont Labs, is a participating member.
  3. Stormont Labs also included in their eleven Mstats, one which is showing consistency in being bison-specific, always reading out as a 73/73 when tested on bison, and much higher and varied numbers if the sample is from cattle. Also included in the eleven Mstats are two that show a wide variation of markers in bison and very little variation in the cattle tested.
  4. Stormont Laboratories, having been the lab of choice for the NABR for the past several years, has saved blood samples since late in 1994, shortly after DNA was found to be extractable: therefore they have the greatest numbers of samples, and samples with known parentage (over 1,000) to perfect their DNA test.
  5. Stormont Laboratories has historically been the forerunner in bison genetics, having solicited for blood samples from public herds in North America including the wood bison, to develop the most exclusive RBC test for bison. (Dr. Clyde Stormont actually finalized the RBC test on bison, by testing all known bovine markers on bison, excluding those that showed no variation.)
  6. Their ongoing studies with the public herds and with the laboratory of choice in Canada, Bovi Can, formerly SRC, for bison are critical in having the NABR be standardized between these parties.
  7. Stormont Laboratories will continue to perform the carbonic anhydrase (CA) test which is the only approved bison-specific test, in conjunction with the new DNA test, until the time comes when the bison-specific Mstats can be doomed dependable for testing full-blooded bison.
  8. Critical to the NABR was to have a smooth transition from RBC to DNA which required that the laboratory of choice had to have capabilities in both technologies.


Parentage verification using DNA, as well as those bison tested as foundation animals, will provide us with over twice as many markers as we previously had with the RBC test.

With DNA, the process is read entirely by machine, eliminating errors in the final analysis. If and when disease markers or carcass markers become established, we will be able to back-test animals on request (or whole groups of animals), because Stormont Laboratories will continue to store samples for us. The change that the NABR committee did request with this transition, is that the blood samples will be the property of the NABR and Stormont Laboratories. Should the NBA wish to request a study, or a change of lab, we will now have ownership of the samples.

Blood, hair, or bone can be used to extract DNA. Until we can eliminate the use of the carbonic anhydrase test for the bison specific markers, we will continue to require blood samples for foundation animals. DNA technology gives us so many more possibilities for future research and data that we are fortunate our registry was small enough to make this transition with relative ease,


The NABR committee and office staff will be working on transition details this summer in order to have everything in order for the producer before fall round-up, when activity with the NABR is the greatest. We have secured an agreement with Stormont Laboratories to DNA test previously blood-type animals, at cost, until March 1, 2001. The NABR will become a completely DNA-based registry; however, there will be transition provisions made possible so that those choosing not to DNA animals already registered can maintain their pedigrees as established. More information will be forthcoming. For the past few years we have wanted to update our systems and networking capabilities. Knowing that DNA was in our future, those ideas and plans had been on hold. We are excited to be entering a new era of efficiency with the DNA test and new programming to enhance the NABR to the best registry possible.

Many producers have been holding off registering their bison because of the long awaited DNA test, and we are excited that we can now provide the latest technology for you.

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