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DNA data, genome selection hot topics at BIF annual meeting

DNA data and genomewide selection were hot topics at the 2009 Beef Improvement Federation annual meeting and research symposium, April 30 to May 3 in Sacramento, Calif.

Kent Andersen, Ph.D., executive vice president for the North American Limousin Foundation, addressed the conference's "Is There Gold in Those Genomes?" general session. On behalf of the U.S. Beef Breeds Council, he offered that breed associations' performance programs should incorporate genomics information for it to be most useful in seedstock selection.

"This requires new business infrastructure and information technologies that function to integrate the activities of breeders, breed associations, genomics companies and genetic-evaluation service providers," he said. "The best use of validated genomics information promises to enhance the accuracy of EPDs (expected progeny differences)--especially for nonparents--and enable more thorough characterization of genetic differences for additional economically relevant traits (ERTs)."

Andersen said genomics information has the potential to lead the beef industry to better bio-economic selection indexes and customized decision support. He then cautioned that a failure to construct the needed infrastructure probably would result in ambiguous, confusing selection information--which actually might impede genetic improvement and threaten the most profitable adoption of genomics technology.

His presentation touched on the history of national cattle evaluations, the emergence of molecular breeding values, and the challenges and benefits of integrating the two. He also addressed the associated costs.

"From a breeder's perspective--depending upon the breed association--the costs associated with cow enrollments, registrations, AI (artificial insemination) service certificates, performance-data entry, ultrasound scanning and ownership transfers add up to $30 to $50 per head," he said. "If animals are also parentage-verified and tested for one or more simple-recessive traits--such as color, polled status and genetic defects--breeders incur costs of another $30 to $50 or more per animal."

The prospect of spending more than $200 per head for recording, data-processing, parentage and genomics services probably will prompt some breeders to adapt through a combination of selective recording, scanning and testing, Andersen predicted. While that is less than ideal from the perspective of complete information for all animals, it is economically justified until the industry clearly establishes the return on investment (ROI) for specific genomic tests.

"Assuming a favorable value proposition, the added accuracy and thoroughness with which animals might be evaluated should favorably impact breeder profitability," he stated. "Breed associations could play an important role in adding to that value proposition. [They] could become more actively engaged in helping breeders formulate selection objectives and mating plans that produce seedstock that better serve the evolving needs of customers."

The beef seedstock business is entering a new era of animal evaluation, Andersen summarized. Breakthroughs in genomics technology and the emergence of MBVs for a variety of traits offer the potential to enhance the accuracy of existing EPDs and to enable selection for important traits not currently evaluated.

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