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Reviewing genomic technologies for better gains in the UK

A team of AbacusBio consultants, in partnership with Teagasc’s research geneticist Dr Donagh Berry in Ireland, are undertaking a review of genetic improvement in beef cattle and sheep in the UK, with special reference to the potential for genomics.

The review is commissioned by EBLEX, a division of the English Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board and the levy-funded organisation that strives to enhance the profitability and sustainability of the English beef and lamb sectors.

The landscape of genetic evaluation is changing and incorporation of genomic information into breeding programmes is on the rise.

The application of genomic technologies has the potential to play a major role in enhancing overall profitability and efficiency of the sheep and suckler beef sectors by increasing rates of genetic improvement from potentially higher accuracy of genetic merit identification.

“Both the beef and sheep industries in the UK have built databases containing phenotypic and genetic data that could provide the underpinning knowledge to enable the implementation of genomic technologies in the future,” Kim Matthews, EBLEX’s Head of Research and Development says.

“Now is the ideal time for us to assess the potential in capitalising on the opportunity presented by genomics and the pathway that might get us there,” he says.

“Disruptive technologies like genomics, can also allow for greater engagement in genetic improvement from multiple sectors of the supply chain, and subsequently increase industry penetration of rams and bulls with a higher genetic merit,“ says Peter Amer, whose team includes Peter Fennessy, Tim Byrne, Daniel Martin-Collado, and Gemma Jenkins.

As part of the review project, Peter Fennessy, Tim Byrne, and Donagh Berry travelled to the UK to visit relevant stakeholders for an industry consultation.

In addition, a survey was developed for bull and ram breeders, which recorded the diversity of views and attitudes towards breeding in the UK sheep and beef industry.

“The consultation process, along with the survey designed and conducted by AbacusBio, gave a great insight into the views and needs of the industry from a genetic technology point of view,” Tim Byrne says.

The project will produce a cost-benefit analysis of past investment and scenarios projected into the future, while identifying strengths and weaknesses of the current system and provide recommendations for establishing potential best practices in the use of genomic tools to accelerate genetic gain.