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Teagasc Research opens Genomic Selection to Farmers

New research carried out by Teagasc in collaboration with industry has resulted in reducing the cost of genomic testing by approximately one third. This will allow Irish dairy farmers to genomically test their breeding animals, facilitating more informed breeding decisions and increase the genetic merit of their herds.

In 2009 genomic selection was launched in Ireland, following research carried out by Teagasc led by Dr. Donagh Berry in collaboration with the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation (ICBF). This made Ireland the second country in the world, after the USA, to implement this technology in a national dairy cattle breeding programme. Genomic selection has resulted in a significant acceleration in genetic gain within the Irish dairy cow population.

But up to now the cost of the technology was prohibitively expensive for individual dairy farmers to implement into their own herd breeding programmes. Now, Dr Berry and his colleagues, in collaboration with the ICBF, have successfully developed a new method to use a lower cost technology with minimal compromise in accuracy. The approach is based on the knowledge that “chunks” of DNA are inherited from an animal’s pedigree and if we know a few of the pieces of DNA in these chunks the remaining DNA in the chunk can be estimated. The accuracy of this estimation is, on average, 98% when the full DNA profile of at least the sire is also known, which is the recommendation laid down for the use of the technology.

The results of this research are now available to farmers through a new service launched by ICBF. Farmers can obtain genomic proofs of their animals at a much reduced cost which can result in better selection decisions and ultimately more profitability through greater genetic gain. The developed technology can also be easily applied to beef cattle when genomic selection becomes available.

Commenting on the research, Teagasc Director of Research Dr. Frank O’Mara said; "This is a great example of science in action, delivering new technologies which will benefit Ireland and Irish dairy farmers. The Life Sciences Journal Lab Times has recently ranked Ireland Number 1 in the world for the quality of its Molecular Genetics & Genomics research. Teagasc are now world leaders in dairy cattle breeding genomics research, and at transferring that research into practice. This is a great example of the pay-off from good research and from building up the capacity in this area over recent years."

The Head of this Programme, Dr. Pat Dillon said; "Continuous access to new world class animal genetics is vital for a profitable industry. This new Genomic service can speed up the rate of genetic improvement of our national cow herd, and help our dairy industry improve its competitive position internationally. We work closely with the ICBF to ensure that cattle breeding programmes in Ireland are as advanced and scientifically based as anywhere in the world".

This research was funded from a range of sources including Dairy Levy, Stimulus Research Fund, FP7, Teagasc, ICBF and the AI industry and carried out by Teagasc at the Animal and Grassland Research and Innovation Centre, Moorepark in collaboration with other Teagasc Centres.