Weighing the worth of genomics

Published 18 February 16

Mark _burnell _2Mark Burnell, director at Synergy Farm Health Vets in Dorset, attended the CoBo conference in Berlin, and here he shares his thoughts on the pros and cons of genomics. 

It’s clear one of the greatest benefits of using genomics is the reduction in generation interval, because young bulls can be evaluated with a reasonable accuracy before having daughters, explains Mark Burnell. 

He says there is also evidence that when genomics data is used, genetic gain is especially good for highly heritable traits such as yield. However, lower heritability traits like fertility and cell count remain important selection criteria, and these, used individually or together as part of a combined index, can be used to target certain areas in exactly the same way as progeny testing-based evaluations. 

Then there are the advantages for the farmer in using genomics in the female population. “You can now select replacement animals at birth, allowing more economically-viable decisions to be made, depending on the actual rather than predicted genetic makeup of the animal,” adds Mark. 

Weiging The Worht Of Genomics

“But on the arguments against genomics, we have the potential for markers to ‘drift away’ from the gene for which they act as an indicator. So the marker for a gene may be detected, but the relationship with the marker can become less reliable with each generation, which is why a marker needs recalibrating at intervals against a large reference population. 

“Remember too that predictions based on genomics are at best 70% until progeny start producing.... so there will be some that don’t turn out as predicted. Hence, we advise never pinning all your hopes on a single genomic bull! 

The overall message, he says, is that genomics can be a great tool, but advice is needed when using the technology. Knowledge of the farm business and its aspirations in health and productivity areas is vital – and the vet is well placed to support this. 

“Testing the genomics on the females in the herd is relatively cheap, now at around £32 per animal, and will really accelerate gain – but be prepared to pay more for advice on which test may be the best one and how to use the results to best effect.” 

“Producers should beware of the reliability when considering the genetics of any individual animal, genomics can make things worse as quickly as it can improve things, if used incorrectly!” says Mark.





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