Genetic gain adding value

By Country News

The sheep industry could see a boost of more than $121million by 2029 due to a long-running genomics research program.

The Sheep Co-Operative Research Centre’s 12-year research program has explored high-impact DNA testing with an economic analysis putting the return at $2.55 for every $1 invested.

Sheep CRC chief executive Professor James Rowe said the estimates, which were independently reviewed, showed the long-term benefits resulting from genomic technologies which would last beyond 2029.

‘‘In fact, in the next five years alone the current level of benefit will double in size due to the cumulative and permanent effect of genetic improvement — therefore the estimate of a $2.55 return on every dollar spent by the CRC is considered conservative,’’ he said.

‘‘Ram breeders using genomics can achieve increased genetic gain each year and these gains are compounded annually with value accrued from benefits such as selecting for eating quality, which increases the value of genetic improvement, and the increase in demand for rams with ASBV (Australian Sheep Breeding Values) figures.’’

Prof Rowe said the impacts of faster genetic gain included increased livestock productivity, the breeding of animals more resilient to environmental risks, and the ability to select for product quality to achieve higher prices for meat and wool.

Achieving these gains has come on the back of a major Commonwealth and industry investment in the collaborative research activities of the Sheep CRC.

These have included conducting full sequence DNA analysis of 500 rams in 2015 to improve information for imputation analysis and to identify predictive SNPs that could be incorporated in future DNA tests, developing a single-step analysis for incorporating genomic information in predicting breeding values, employing specialist post-doctoral fellows with expertise in the field of genomic analysis and the investment of running Meat & Livestock Australia’s Resource Flock.

‘‘The prediction of traits difficult to measure was a particular focus of the genomic analysis,’’ Prof Rowe said.

‘‘But the end result of improving the design of the DNA test and taking advantage of new technologies for SNP chip analysis has resulted in decreased costs of testing and rapidly accelerating adoption.

‘‘Over the last five years the price of genomic profiling has fallen from $50 per test to $27, and the number of tests has sky-rocketed with 24000 genotyping tests sold in 2018, plus a further 75000 parentage tests.

‘‘We anticipate usage and impact from the Sheep CRC’s genomics program to continue to rise in years to come.’’