Seminar 'Scientific developments in livestock genetics'

Published on
August 20, 2018

On 12 July 2018 approximately 45 people participated in a Breed4Food seminar in Wageningen. In three sessions, developments in crossbred genomics, multi-breed analyses and novel phenotypes for health and efficiency were presented.

The mix of presentations by researchers on developments and industry representatives on implementation issues resulted in lively discussions. The links between research and application and between questions by industries and research performed was clearly shown during this seminar.

Can purebred-crossbred correlation predict successful crossings?

The first session focussed on crossbred genomics. In the pyramid breeding structure of pigs, layers and broilers the production animals are crossbred animals, while selection takes place in purebred animals in different environment. That is why the genetic correlation between purebred and crossbred performance, known as the purebred-crossbred correlation, is very important. An overview was given of how to develop models to optimise breeding program designs to estimate the purebred-crossbred correlation and to be able to select purebreds for crossbred performance. The presentations led to questions if it can be predicted which crossing of different lines will give the best results.

Genomic selection increases genetic progress

The second session focussed on multi-breed analyses. Holstein is dominating all genomic prediction information and the question raised if this information can be beneficial for other breeds. Application of genomic selection has increased genetic progress per year by up to 50% for the major cattle breeds. So far, limited improvement in accuracy of genomic selection has been observed from combining information on multiple breeds in genomic evaluations. A large meta-analysis showed that the genetic background of cattle stature is comparable to that of humans and that many genes are involved. And it showed that this variation already was present in the Auroch cattle, in the pre-domestication period.

Mastitis causes a change in microbiome

The third session was about the microbiome and its possibilities to breed for resilient, efficient and healthy animals are investigated. A high amount of variability of species of bacteria is found in the healthy mammary microbiome, however, when a cow suffers from mastitis mono cultures of anaerobic species (i.e., the bad guys) are found. It was confirmed that mastitis is causing a change in microbiome and not the other way round. Research was done to pinpoint the environmental effect of digestibility of feed. Related animals (siblings) appeared to have a closer microbiome. After recovery from infection the original microbiome returns.

The Breed4Food consortium consisting of Wageningen University & Research and four international animal breeding companies exists since 2012 and focusses on genetic improvement to realize a profitable livestock sector. The aim of Breed4Food is to contribute to sustainable food production by developing new innovations for breeding programmes for cattle, pigs and poultry.