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Reducing Greenhouse Emissions: Genomic Testing of Every Cow in Ireland

25 August 2020

Thermo Fisher Scientific

Genomics technologies have the potential to solve big problems and establish new paradigms for animal breeding that seem impossibly ambitious today.

One group determined to realize that promise is the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation (ICBF), a cooperative of cattle breeding organizations and farmers in Ireland. ICBF’s technical director, Dr. Andrew Cromie, has been overseeing the mass genotyping of Irish cattle using genomics tools for the primary objective of genetic improvement of dairy and beef cattle in Ireland.

Genetic improvement of dairy and beef cattle in Ireland

The ICBF is currently using state-of-the-art tools such as the Applied Biosystems Axiom Genotyping Platform to collect the data necessary to take that improvement to the next level. As Dr. Cromie explains, “Genomics is a key tool for accelerating the rate of genetic gain that we can achieve” in cattle breeding by identifying valuable genetic outliers whose traits should be spread among the wider cattle population. When identified young, these cattle can be the focus of selective breeding efforts going forward. Early identification enables both earlier action and allows farmers to determine how effectively the desired traits are propagating in a fraction of the time required by older methods. ICBF has a large program for beef cattle and a developed program for dairy cattle, and aims to collect large quantities of genomic information to accelerate these genetic gains.

What are the challenges for genomics and cattle breeding in Ireland?

Ireland produces 10 times as many cattle as it consumes and exports 90% of its production, primarily to the United Kingdom, the European Union, and Asia. The scale of its cattle farming operations means that agriculture produces about 33% of Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions, mostly in the form of methane from cattle. ICBF is looking into genetic improvements that could reduce the methane output of Ireland’s cattle.

In Dr. Cromie’s words, “this is a major project in Ireland, to see if we can start to breed animals that produce less methane,” and livestock are seen as an area where reductions in greenhouse gas emission can be achieved. The ICBF team is using Applied Biosystems Axiom myDesign products to collect information on traits that might help with the climatological and environmental impact of cattle farming and to identify superior animals whose traits could help reduce the carbon footprint of Ireland’s cattle farms.

What are the future applications of genomics for bovines?
The ICBF’s goal is to genotype every head of cattle in Ireland. With a fully genotyped population, traceability and provenance data will be massively improved, enabling levels of quality control that are unheard of in today’s herds. Additionally, a fully genotyped cattle population will take the scale of ICBF’s efforts to guide selective breeding to maximize genetic gain to a whole new level, providing a full picture of the genetic reality of Ireland’s cattle stock. Such a complete record would be a major boon to researchers and breeders alike.

How has Thermo Fisher Scientific helped ICBF?

Through the Beef Genomics Project, ICBF has genotyped almost 2 million animals. With direct assistance from Thermo Fisher Scientific and access to Axiom genotyping arrays, ICBF genotyped over 300,000 animals in their first year alone. They have worked closely with Thermo Fisher Scientific to develop a second iteration of their customized bovine array. The team is looking forward to a similar yield this year, and to increase their testing output to reach 2.5 million animals per year, enabling them to achieve their goal of genotyping Ireland’s entire population of cattle. With their close and ongoing working relationship with Thermo Fisher Scientific, Dr. Cromie and his team are confident that these goals are attainable and will pay off handsomely for the Irish cattle industry.

For more information about the Applied Biosystems Agrigenomics products and services, visit our webpage or read our brochure. For more information about Axiom bovine arrays, read more about the Axiom Bovine Genotyping v3 Array (384 format), the Axiom Bovine Genotyping v3 Array (mini-96 format), and the Axiom Genome-Wide BOS 1 Bovine Array. For more information about the AgriSeq line of animal genomics products, click here. You can also visit our contact form with specific questions, inquiries or requests.

For research use only. Not for use in diagnostic procedures.

 

 

 

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