University of Georgia Elevating Evaluation: Developing new tools to understand animal genetics

Farmers and commercial breeders constantly search for the best animals to breed for dairy, beef, and poultry production. This selection process is often based on pedigree and physical evaluation of desired traits, but this method is prone to error and doesn’t always lead to better traits. 

An animal’s DNA can contain 3 billion data points, presenting an immense challenge to selecting animals based on genetics. Analysis is often limited due to the costs of computing the data, weaknesses in pedigree evaluation, and the complexity of genetic relationships that result in desired traits. 

Dr. Misztal and a team of international researchers are working to solve this problem by simplifying genetic analyses for dairy cattle evaluation. Using data from more than 3 million Holstein cows, the team examined genetic relationships within the cattle genome that led to desired traits, such as increased milk production. 

Researchers were able to simplify the analysis into a single-step process that provides a more accurate prediction of genetic potential in breeding animals. 

This project will provide a reliable, accurate, fast, and easy-to-use tool for genomic evaluation of animals in the U.S. dairy industry, with no restrictions on the number of phenotypes, pedigree, and genotypes that can be studied. This will allow breeders to develop well-balanced cows that grow fast, give plenty of milk, reproduce efficiently, and resist disease. 

“When consumers buy meat or dairy products, there is a greater than 50 percent chance that the product comes from animals selected using our genetic and computational methods.  I am proud of the discovery and development of accurate, simpler, and powerful methods for genetic evaluation.” 

– Ignacy Misztal 

Retaking The Field Volume 4 “Retaking the Field: Science Breakthroughs for Thriving Farms and a Healthier Nation” is a collaborative report from 20 FedByScience universities and the SoAR Foundation. The report highlights research projects in the five Science Breakthroughs areas identified as the most important fields to advance in agriculture by the year 2030: genomics, microbiomes, sensors, data and informatics, and transdisciplinary research. View The Issue
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