Current Projects

PhD projects

Animal Breeding and Genomics Centre have over 20 ongoing PhD projects, both connected to major projects as well as other topics. Current PhD projects can be found at WIAS website.


Milk Genomics

The aim of the Dutch Milk Genomics Initiative is to identify genes that contribute to natural genetic variation in milk-quality traits, in particular milk-fat and milk-protein composition. The program will provide tools for improved breeding programs to exploit natural genetic variation in milk-quality traits and contributes to the knowledge base needed for innovative dairy products. The Milk Genomics Initiative combines expertise in the fields of dairy science, quantitative genetics, genomics and bioinformatics.

Milk samples and blood (for DNA extraction) have been collected in a resource population consisting of 2000 Dutch Holstein Friesian cows in their first lactation. This population has been designed for estimation of genetic parameters (such as heritabilities and genetic correlations) as well as for detection of QTL. All biological samples are stored in our bio bank. Detailed milk composition has been determined, resulting in information on routine milk recording data (milk, fat, protein and lactose production, fat, protein and lactose concentration, somatic cell count, urea, pH), protein composition (all major milk proteins, including genetic variants), and fat composition. Future plans comprise determination of opportunities for marker assisted differentiation and marker assisted selection to improve milk quality and efficiency of milk production. Furthermore, we intend to evaluate the quality of dairy products of animals with extreme genotypes.

More info is found on the website:

Social interactions

Social interactions among individuals are present everywhere in the living world, in both natural and domestic populations. Genetic improvement of traits related to social interactions, however, has proven difficult or even counterproductive. At ABGC we developed the quantitative genetic theory of inheritance and response to selection for traits affected by social interactions, and we substantiated theoretical findings with experimental work in poultry and pigs. We demonstrated that social interactions can contribute to genetic variance and response to selection. In the coming years, we want to capitalise on our leading position in this field by further developing the theoretical framework and substantiating the genetic effects and biological relevance of social interaction by applying the findings in breeding programmes for pigs, laying hens and Tilapia.

Contact: Piter Bijma or Esther Ellen

ERC Selsweep

The origin of new species has intrigued scientists ever since Darwin's time. Within the research project 'Molecular characterization of genetic factors in the pig under selection during speciation, domestication and breeding', funded by the European Research Council (ERC) we aim to gain more insight into the way in which new species arise. In this respect, Suids offer unique opportunities to address these questions because of the availability of 12 closely related pig species that have diverged over a time span of 1 to 10 million years. We will compare the genome of the modern pig with that of a number of closely related species such as the warthog from Java, the bearded pig from Borneo and the Sulawesi warthog . Recent technological developments now make it possible to sequence the whole genome of a large number of individuals. By comparing the genomes of individuals from various pig breeds, our research team aims to obtain detailed insight into the changes in the genome since the pig was domesticated around 9000 years ago. We will also investigate more recent changes that have taken place as a result of selection by breeding in the pig sector. The new insights provide information about evolution and may also help to make selection in pig breeding more specific. The direct sequencing of individuals from a variety of populations using next generation sequencing enables an unbiased capture of the full breadth of genetic variation in the porcine genome addressing both single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) as well as CNVs.

Contact: Martien Groenen


Insect bite hypersensitivity

Insect bite hypersensitivity (IBH) is an allergic reaction of horses to the bite of Culicoides species. Worldwide IBH is the most common allergic skin disease in horses (prevalence ranging from 3% to 60%) and it is characterised by itchy lesions mostly found along the mane and tail and incidentally under the abdomen. Currently, there is no effective treatment or preventive method available for IBH. In moderate climates, the condition of the disease is specifically seen during the summer. Affected horses develop severe skin lesions due to self-mutilation in an attempt to alleviate the itch.
At ABGC we found that the prevalence of IBH varied from 0% to 71.4% between regions of the Netherlands. Furthermore, a clear difference in prevalence was found between two horse populations, a prevalence of 8% was found in the Shetland population and a prevalence of 18% in the Friesian population. In addition, evidence was found for substantial genetic within both populations which offer opportunities to reduce the prevalence of IBH by breeding.

Contact: Bart Ducro