THE increasing use of genomic technology could have far reaching implications for breed societies, according to Dr Robert Banks, from the Animal Genetics and Breeding Unit, University of New England, Australia.
Speaking at the recent British Cattle Breeders Conference, held in Telford, Dr Banks explained that in the pre-genomics era, to determine the genetic merit of an animal you had to record something about it – its pedigree and some aspects of its performance.
This data was then used to create EBVs and informed breeding decisions, for example, choice of bull.
When using genomics evaluations, once a reference population, comprising of animals with phenotypes (records) and genotypes has been established, anyone can draw on the reference data by genotyping an animal and including the genotype in a genetic evaluation.
Dr Banks said: “It is now possible to determine pedigree and much else about animals without maintaining a herd book.
“The core of this change is that we can decouple evaluation from recording.
“Previously, if a member of a breed society wanted to determine the genetic merit of their animals, they had to invest in recording those animals. Now they can achieve this by pulling tail hairs and submitting genotypes to the breed for evaluation.
“One immediately obvious consequence is the potential for free-riding, depending on who invests in the reference and on what terms others can access it.”
Dr Banks stressed that genomics offered a real opportunity for significantly faster and more valuable genetic progress. That is starting to be seen in Australia, where the increase in accuracy of predicting progeny performance is substantial – up to 20 per cent depending on breed and trait.
Dr Banks said: “It is the size and trait coverage of the reference population which determines what value breeders and others can extract from genomics.
“Breeds should aim for 250-1,000 new animals recorded and genotyped per year as higher numbers generate greater genomic accuracy.
“This then leads to the question ‘how does the breed fund the reference?
“If left to individual breeders this will be affected by recording costs and the likelihood of getting an adequate return, for example, via bull sales.
“Uncertainty about returns will result in under-investment in trait recording and the breed’s capacity to exploit genomic selection will be comprised. This implies that some form of payment for records must be considered.
“Genomic selection will force breeds to focus on two strategic questions – what to breed for and how to fund reference populations.
“They may wish to differentiate users of reference data and there is scope to redefine membership. Breeds should also explore scope for long-term funding relationships with industry and/or Government organisations.
“Genomics provide the opportunity to re-think how breed societies work – what are the rules around use of the key information resource and how are costs distributed?
“The breeds that emerge from the genomics era intact and viable will have had to trial a new way of doing things.
“But in finding practical, equitable and efficient ways of generating and using information they will have a much stronger foundation for sustained viability than previously.”