BREEDPLAN Staff Attend the 2018 World Congress for Genetics Applied to Livestock Production in Auckland, New Zealand

Opportunity to gain insights from worldwide livestock research

Apr 2020

In February, a team of BREEDPLAN and SBTS extension staff headed to Auckland, New Zealand to attend the 11th World Congress for Genetic Applied to Livestock Production (WCGALP). This congress is the premier event for researchers, extension and other industry personnel involved in the genetic improvement of livestock including cattle, sheep, goats, deer, horses, poultry and aquaculture. The World Congress is held every four years with 1480 delegates from around the world attending to listen and learn from the 753 scientific papers presented in 2018.

 Catriona Millen, SBTS Technical Officer, presented a paper entitled ‘Southern Beef Technology Services: Eleven Years of Facilitating Genetic Improvement in the Southern Australian Beef Industry’. The paper covered the extension activities and impact of the project, including some metrics illustrating the knowledge gained by breeders as a result of participating in SBTS activities. SBTS also thanked all of those that have supported the project, including the stakeholders and their staff and all of the individual beef producers who have welcomed the SBTS team into their homes and businesses. The full paper can be found here. Shalanee Weerasinghe, BREEDPLAN Technical Specialists, and Boyd Gudex, SBTS Technical Officer, also presented papers at WCGALP, covering other work that they have been involved in outside of their BREEDPLAN roles.

 Some of key messages, relevant to beef cattle producers, to come out of the congress were:

  • For livestock industries using genomic information in their genetic evaluations, single-step is the standard methodology being adopted. The main reason for this is that single-step allows the estimation of more accurate breeding values for animals that were previously affected by a lack of data and/or poor data structure. These include animals that are too young to have certain traits recorded, traits that are hard and/or expensive to measure and animals in small contemporary groups (e.g. sick animals, show team or ET progeny).

  • Even though the single-step methodology is becoming well established, there is still a lot of research and development going on in this space. The BREEDPLAN staff and researchers in attendance were certainly taking note of what new and exciting directions this may take us in the future.

  • Quality genetic evaluations still require large quantities of accurate trait data. One theme from the congress was selection for hard and/or expensive to measure traits. These included feed efficiency, carcase, fertility and methane emissions traits. The unanimous conclusion was that even with the inclusion of genomic data into genetic evaluations, quality recording of traits remains vitally important to the accuracy of the analyses.

  • One cattle paper identified that each individual in their study had approximately 120 recessive deleterious alleles (gene copies). The presence of so many of these deleterious alleles illustrates one of the dangers of inbreeding, as inbred progeny risk being affected by a genetic condition after inheriting the recessive allele from both parents. The ability to use genomic data to calculate the levels of inbreeding present in individuals was a potential future development also discussed at the congress. It is thought that this will be more accurate than the current method, which calculates the level of inbreeding based on the presence of common ancestors in a pedigree.

  • The same study also found that, on average, 64.2 new mutations were found in each individual that were not found in either parent. These new mutations were not all deleterious; in fact some were likely to be beneficial and the majority had no identifiable effect. This is an exciting finding as it means that there is always new variation to be exploited in the next generation(s).