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Australian Cattle Council : Yearbook 2009
CA TTLE COUNCIL OF AUSTRALIA YEARBOOK 2009 Beef Cooperative Research Centre dna markers Research doesn’t come cheap. In fact Australian taxpayers and beef producers themselves have invested millions of dollars in scientific research. But if the Australian beef industry wants to maintain its market share, continued investment in R&D is imperative. B ringing together some of the brightest minds in their respective fields, Cooperative Research Centres are, by their very nature, engines of innovation. They promote, foster and encourage collaboration across institutions, across states and, as Beef CRC has successfully shown, across countries. Beef CRC is Australia’s largest integrated beef research program. With support from organizations like Cattle Council, Beef CRC has embarked on a very ambitious 7-year research program to identify associations between DNA markers and traits of economic importance such as beef quality, feed efficiency and methane production, adaptation to environmental stressors, animal welfare and female reproduction. These associations can then be used to screen cattle early in their lives, to cost-effectively identify individual animals best suited for breeding or management purposes through particular production systems, to maximise business (and industry) productivity and profitability. This will be achieved by selecting cattle for specific markets based on the genes they carry, not through artificial modification of their genomes. Beef CRC is responsible not only for undertaking the complex research, but also for ensuring its research outputs are useful for industry and are therefore effectively used by beef businesses in Australia and across the globe. With appropriate discovery, validation and implementation, DNA markers have the potential to transform the beef (and other livestock) industries globally – they are likely to be the biggest revolution in the beef industry since the introduction of Brahmans to northern Australia. Imagine beef businesses being able to take a tail hair or a blood sample from their cattle at branding, send it off to a genotyping laboratory and in a matter of days or weeks, receive a gene marker profile of each animal they own. That gene marker profile will not change over an animal’s life, meaning it becomes a valuable blueprint for the animal’s management over its lifetime. 54 Armed with the animal’s gene marker profile, it will be easy for producers to identify the best cattle for particular markets, or the best replacements to go into their breeding herds, taking the guesswork out of cattle production. These are the opportunities that DNA markers offer to producers. But it’s not going to happen overnight. Five years ago, Beef CRC believed it would discover 5-10 DNA markers for each economically important trait and that those 5-10 markers would collectively account for up to 50% of the genetic variation for the trait of interest. In 2005/06, following the public release of the entire bovine genome sequence, large commercial panels of DNA markers (known as single nucleotide polymorphisms or SNP chips) became available to the global research community. At that time, Beef CRC believed it was in the box seat to discover DNA markers, because it had the world’s largest resource populations with very accurate measurements for the traits of interest. Access to such resource populations and matching DNA are essential to capitalize on the availability of the full genome sequence. However, it did not take long for Beef CRC to realise its earlier assumptions about the number and size of effect of DNA markers were no longer valid! Instead of 5-10 DNA markers per trait, it is now clear that hundreds or perhaps thousands of DNA markers affect each economically important trait. And each one of those hundreds or thousands of DNA markers only accounts for a very small amount of genetic variation for the trait. This means that even larger numbers of animals with accurate measurements are required to discover the associations between the markers and the traits of interest and many more on top of that to confirm and validate the results to the standards required by industry. Beef CRC no longer had access to all the resources required to give industry the confidence it needed to use these new genetic technologies. However, effective research and development is about far more than just making new discoveries. It is also about knowing organisational limitations and seeking innovative ways to overcome them. 1117_CCA Yearbook 2009.indd 54 5/5/09 8:01:06 PM