Profile Professor of the Chair Animal Breeding and Genomics (0.8/1.0 fte)

Full Professor in Animal Breeding and Genomics

The chair group Animal Breeding and Genomics aims to contribute to a more sustainable safe and healthy animal food supply for human populations, to reduce the impact on the environment, make better use of resources, and to meet the needs of society. The current chair group’s mission is “To perform excellent animal breeding and genomics research and education to create knowledge which contributes to sustainable livestock and fish production in an international context”. The principal task of the chair holder is to lead the Animal Breeding and Genomics Group (ABG-group) and together further develop an innovative, relevant, and high-profile research and education programme in animal breeding and genetics.

The professor is communicative and shows team-oriented leadership with a management style that suits highly educated staff members and students. S/he should be able to inspire and connect people based on a mutual interest in research and education of the group. S/he has good skills to work collaboratively and act persuasively. The candidate professor should aspire to be an ambassador of the chair group Animal Breeding and Genetics and a trusted and inspirational spokesperson in animal breeding and genetics.

It is expected from the candidate professor to have expertise in the core disciplines relevant to animal breeding (e.g. genomics, quantitative genetics, and/or breeding programmes) and a clear vision on future research in the interdisciplinary domain. His/her expertise may include affinity and experience with collaborative projects with industry partners. As such he/she will have final responsibility for the Human Resource Management of the chair group (45 fte), for education, and for acquisition (ca 1 million euro/ year research grants and ca 3 million euro / year contract grants).

The future chair is expected to have a clear vision on education in an international context, leading to further capacity building in the field, and to have a passion for teaching. S/he knows how to inspire students from various backgrounds and how to develop new undergraduate and postgraduate teaching activities.

The chair will operate within the context of the newly formed Animal Breeding and Genomics Centre ABGC, together with the department of Genomics of Wageningen UR Livestock Research. With the board of this centre, the chair will represent the university group; but also act as the scientific leader and figurehead of the entire centre. The chair will also represent ABGC in the board of the Breed4Food consortium, a collaboration between Wageningen UR and the major Dutch breeding companies Topigs-Norsvin, Hendrix Genetics, CRV and Cobb.

Current research

The group combines expertise in three closely related disciplinary domains: genomics, quantitative genetics, and breeding programmes. The main focus of the research of the ABG-group is on farm animals (cattle, pigs, poultry and fish) that are subject to artificial selection. The groups also studies non-farmed animals not only to further strengthen the position of the group in the broader domain of genetics, but also to contribute to the group’s research on farmed animals.

The research is focused on improving the prediction and creation of genetic change in populations. This is achieved by performing research at the level of DNA, animals, and populations to gain knowledge on the origin and impact of genetic variation in complex traits, including the long-term impact of selection strategies to achieve genetic change. Most phenotypes are complex and quantitative in nature, and the focus of the research is on using genome information to predict such complex phenotypes and increasingly this is driven by genome sequence information from individual animals. Combined with deep pedigrees and extensive phenotypic records, the latest molecular genomics and quantitative genetic tools provide an opportunity to understand better the relation between genotype and phenotype. The aim is to study this relation and explore opportunities for genomics prediction based on the biological information (biology-driven genomic prediction). Genomic prediction is aimed not only at the genetic change in performance of the population in the next generation (genomic selection), but also at the long-term consequences for performance and genetic diversity (breeding programmes).

At the level of DNA, the group studies changes that results from selection and domestication. The emphasis is increasingly on obtaining knowledge about all functional sequences in the genome (coding and non-coding), and the observed variation in these sequences. Information collected at the DNA level is linked to performance of animals to improve the reliability of genomic breeding values (genomic prediction) and to identify genomic regions and genes contributing to genetic variation (genome-wide association studies). At the population level, the group studies the impact of social interactions (indirect genetic effects), genotype-by-environment interaction, and uniformity of groups of animals. In that research, DNA information and modelling are used which signifies the close connections between the disciplinary domain in the group. Research on breeding programmes focuses on how to use increased knowledge on the genetic change in a population with minimal loss of genetic diversity. Genomic prediction of breeding values (GEBV) is inaccurate for distantly related individuals and more so for individuals from different breeds. The inclusion of functional information is expected to remove this problem, although gene action may be dependent on genetic background.

Although increasingly information on complete genome sequences of individual animals is used, it turns out to be difficult to predict which specific variants affect the phenotype. This difficulty highlights our limited knowledge on how genomes function. For the coming years, the group aims to increase the knowledge on non-coding sequences and epigenetic modifications to understand and be able to predict better the difference in phenotypes. The emphasis is shifting increasingly from understanding the genotype-phenotype relation to actively predicting the genotype-phenotype relation.

Current education

The Animal Breeding and Genomics Group has a strong interest in developing education at BSc/MSc and (post)doctoral level. The group is involved in two European consortia where joint education and training activities are developed for MSc and PhD students. In one consortium (EGSABG), Animal Breeding and Genetics is developing together with three other universities (SLU, AU, and APT) a joint degree program for PhD students.

The successful candidate professor will take responsibility for the courses of the chair within the BSc and the MSc programmes. This means active participation in the courses, initiation and development of new courses, incorporation of new issues or subjects that emerge over the years, and implementation of relevant new methods. Assisted by staff members, the professor will supervise PhD candidates in post-doctoral training, which will be offered in the form of (inter)national courses and within the postgraduate school WIAS.

Department of Animal Sciences

The chair group Animal Breeding and Genomics is part of the Department of Animal Sciences. This department combines the activities of twelve chairs groups and offers jobs as diverse as laboratory personnel, controllers, and administrative and scientific staff. It houses a total of 290 part-time and full time employees, including 220 PhDs.

The twelve chair groups in the department are:

Research in the Department of Animal Sciences can be divided into three main themes:

  1. Animal health and welfare,
  2. Healthy and safe food, and,
  3. Sustainable systems

With these subjects, the Department of Animal Sciences contributes to healthy and safe products while also focussing on animal health in sustainable systems. Specialising in these themes facilitates a greater depth of knowledge and early recognition of new research trends. As a result the Department of Animal Sciences has an international reputation as a centre of excellence, which in turn increases the number of non-Dutch PhD students, improves relationships with business, and promotes the department’s success with competitive research funds such as the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) and the EU.

The chair groups of the Department of Animal Sciences offer education in various study programmes including:

  • BSc Animal Sciences
  • BSc Biology
  • BSc Nutrition and Health
  • MSc Animal Sciences
  • MSc Biology
  • MSc Nutrition and Health
  • MSc Aquaculture and Marine Resource Management.

Students acquire knowledge of all sectors involving animals with a function for mankind: food production, companionship, health care, recreation, and nature management. The focus within the study programmes is on both biological knowledge as well as insights into social, economic, and ethical issues. Animals are studied at various levels: from gene to molecule, and from animal to entire husbandry systems.