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Scientist honoured for work in putting Ireland at the forefront of cattle genetics

One of Ireland’s leading animal scientists who helped devise a way to identify genetically-elite cattle has been presented with a prestigious award for his work in animal genetics.

Donagh Berry, principal investigator in statistical genetics at Teagasc, University College Dublin, was awarded the Sir John Hammond Award by the British Society of Animal Science at their annual conference at the University of Nottingham this week (16 April).

Presented to scientists in the early-mid part of their career who have made a significant contribution to developing animal science and production, Dr Berry received the award for the cutting-edge work he has done in helping improve Ireland’s cattle production capabilities.

An internationally-renowned dairy geneticist, Dr Berry’s work helped Ireland become the second country in the world to publish genomically-enhanced genetic evaluations for dairy cattle.

His research has also moved into sheep and beef, with a particular interest in developing technologies in farm management and farm animal breeding.

Through this work he has helped develop a system through which every young dairy bull undergoing progeny testing will assessed for genotype, helping farmers select only elite bulls for use in their herds.

The genomic selection technology will help screen beef bulls reliably, quickly and at a smaller cost than traditional SNP screening.

This is because the testing can be carried out using hair samples from a very young age, rather than waiting for a sire’s progeny to be slaughtered before traits can be identified.

Chris Warkup, BSAS president, said Dr Berry had made considerable contributions to genomic science which had helped put Ireland at the forefront of dairy genetics.

“As a part-time farmer, he is highly-motivated that his research activities are relevant to the industry and bring about real technical developments on farm,” he said.

“Ireland may not immediately spring to mind as an international innovator in dairy genetics but the research that he led has placed Ireland at the cutting-edge.”

Dr Berry was also commended for helping develop the next generation of scientists through his teaching work, and for his communication skills in talking about science to the media and to non-scientific audiences.

Accepting the award, Dr Berry said that working to improve animal genetics had a huge role to play in helping secure food supplies to feed the world’s growing population.

"We know that science has contributed 50% of the gains we have achieved in increased food production over the past few decades, and animal science such as genetics has played a large part of that."

"For example, through genetics by 2020 the fertility of Holsteins will be the highest we have achieved since 1989, but we will have seen a 60% increase in milk production."

"Our next job is to use genetic tools to expand our breeding goals to improve the quality of the products our farmers produce, such as milk with lower saturated fat, and to address the environmental footprint of our livestock."

“Receiving this award from BSAS is a huge privilege and encouragement to me and other researchers to help find ways for science to help meet the growing demand for food.”