Biotechnology Focus

Biotechnology Focus February 2013

Biotechnology Focus is Canada's leading authority on Canada's life science news. From biopharma and healthcare to ag-bio and clean tech, our readership includes life science professionals, C-level executives and researchers.

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Across Canada ter. Genomics has helped cut the time it takes by a few years and has saved the industry money in other ways. Just as important, it gives dairy farmers a more indicative idea of the type of cow they're breeding. Selecting better sires, perhaps even using sexed semen on the best heifers are but two examples. Other examples might be breeding a cow that doubles milk production or just even increasing fertility in breeding. It generally increases farmers' chances of getting it right." Moreover, through genomics dairy farmers can also enhance the immune system of the cow, identifying animals that transmit healthy immune traits and breeding from these animals. The result is having healthier animals that produce healthy milk for consumers to enjoy. Perhaps most importantly, genomics provides a more mathematical approach to better manage Holstein breeding. "It all ties back into a genetic advancement formula that has been around for many years in the industry called the Lifetime Profit Index, or in short, LPI. LPI is a formula based on health traits, milk production, and type traits on how well an animal looks. It provides an overall measure of the economic value an animal will contribute and considers factors such as production, durability, health and fertility. Genomics has helped enhance this formula by increasing the reliability of what that formula tells us. Prior to genomics, if we had two parents, male and female, our prediction rate of optimizing mating was 35 per cent accurate. With genomics, it is now 65 per cent accurate. So it's almost twice as accurate. This number will continue to grow as more animals are genomic tested, giving us a larger database to predict from." All genomic samples in Canada for the Holstein breed come through Holstein Canada, and producers are able to use the genomic results to identify the traits currently that an animal exhibits and make more informed breeding decisions to breed and produce a next generation of Holstein that is more profitable than the current generation. According to McNeil, Holstein Canada offers Canadian dairy farmers three genomic testing options: one, a low density (LD) panel test for $45; the second, a LD plus test which was released in December last year for the cost of $60; and the third is a standard 50K panel test for $135. The difference between these three tests are the number of SNPs that are analyzed during the test. The LD panel analyzes 6,000 SNPs compared to the LD plus test which is 9,000 SNPs and the 50K panel analyzes 50,000 SNPs. These tests also screen for further genetic traits such as coat 22 BIOTECHNOLOGY FOCUS February 2013 colour, polled (whether an animal is born with horns or not), and for certain diseases. The tests themselves are predominantly meant for use on heifers, but can also be used on cows and bulls. Heifers are female cows that haven't give birth, which usually happens at 24 months of age. The reason genomic tests are predominantly used on heifers says McNeil is because the gain in accuracy of predicting an animal's genetic merit is largest for younger animals. He adds that with heifer rearing costs in Canada pegged at $2,500 or more, being able to make better selection, culling, or marketing decisions at an earlier age can significantly impact overall herd profitability. "Young animals always have a higher genetic potential than the older animals in a herd, so when a member genomic tests their heifers, they can use that in a mating program to enhance the rapid genetic gain from generation to generation. That's why there's a great uptake with the tests for young animals," says McNeil. While genomics tools have only been on the market since 2009, they have been readily embraced by the industry. "Amazingly I would have to say genomics, and genomic testing is increasing on an annual basis. One would think the uptake with producers would be slow, but annually the average over the last two years there has been 11,000 samples collected and submitted to Holstein Canada for testing, and we anticipate for 2013 that it's going to exceed 19,000 samples. It just goes to show with the large number of samples submitted within a year, how many people are actually using genomics and submitting samples, it's quite a significant amount." Also appealing is that the tests are noninvasive to the animal. "All it takes is pulling a few hairs from the cow's tail, or alternatively, a sample can be collected using a swab (either nasal or vaginal)." The samples are submitted to Holstein Canada and then shipped to a lab in Québec. The lab analyzes these samples, the results come back to Holstein Canada, and they in turn are provided to the producer on a monthly basis. A question sometimes posed is what is more important, the bull's genes or the dam's genes in a genomic test result? Some feel it's the male's genes, because a sire can produce hundreds of thousands, if not millions of doses of semen in his lifetime, which results in more offspring then a female could ever produce. McNeil is among those with this opinion. "The greatest bull the Holstein breed has ever seen is a Canadian-bred sire by the name of Braedale Goldwyn. With over 31,000 daughters in Canada, Goldwyn was also the first bull in the history of the breed to reach 1,000 Excellent (EX) daughters in Canada. He is an example of a sire that is very pre-potent in desirable genetics, and just by sheer numbers the influence and impact he has made in the world is much larger than what a female can do. And while he passed away a few years ago, Goldwyn still continues to breed more daughters and more sires because of his frozen semen. In fact, he will register about 500 daughters a year now, a lot less than he has in the past but still very impressive for a sire who is deceased." When selecting a sire to mate a cow too, dairy farmers look at one or two faults of a cow they want to improve upon and select a sire or bull that would hopefully improve upon these one or two traits. McNeil says that farmers might look at a cow and say, "I want her to produce more milk, or I want her to be taller and then they go to a bull list and look over the hundreds of options to breed that cow too that hopefully results in a better animal for the next generation. This is where you have a lot more greater potential with looking at the options of sires, and why a bull like Goldwyn gets used so often." McNeil adds however, that one shouldn't dismiss the importance of the female genes, particularly in passing on certain traits to their progeny, especially when it comes to milk production. Either way, the results of genomic progress are improving upon what is already a strong Holstein industry in Canada. In fact, Canada is a major player when it comes to exporting dairy cattle genetics around the world with more than $8.6 million worth of Canadian Holstein embryos sold to countries such as Australia, Brazil, Germany, Japan and China in 2011. Likewise, a total of $121.5 million of Canadian dairy genetics were exported to Russia, the U.S., Kazakhstan, the Netherlands and other countries last year. At the end of the day, this leading-edge genetic technology is not only used to breed better cows that produce higher quality of milk for Canadian consumers, but it is a technology that is helping to breed the highest-quality of cattle enjoyed by many around the world. To see this story online visit genomic-selection-in-dairycow-breeding T e T im a • • • • •

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