On July 12th approximately 45 people participated in a Breed4Food seminar which was hosted by the Animal Breeding and Genomics group of Wageningen University & Research. In three sessions, developments in crossbred genomics, multi-breed analyses and novel phenotypes for health and efficiency were presented. The mix of presentations by researchers on developments and industry representatives on implementation issues resulted in lively discussions.
The first session focussed on crossbred genomics. In the pyramid breeding structure of pigs, layers and broilers, production animals are crossbred animals, while selection takes place in purebred animals in different environments. That is why the genetic correlation between purebred and crossbred performance, known as the purebred-crossbred correlation, is very important. The presenters gave an overview of models to optimise breeding program designs in order to estimate the purebred-crossbred correlation and to be able to select purebreds for crossbred performance. The presentations led to the question wether we can predict which crossing of different lines will give the best results.
The second session focussed on multi-breed analyses. The Holstein breed dominates all genomic prediction information and the question is whether this information can also be beneficial to other breeds. Application of genomic selection has increased genetic progress per year by up to 50% for the major cattle breeds. So far, improvement in accuracy of genomic selection by combining information on multiple breeds in genomic evaluations has, however, been limited. A large meta-analysis showed that the genetic background of cattle stature is comparable to that of humans and that many genes are involved, so here combining information led to interesting results. It also showed that this variation was already present in Auroch cattle, in the pre-domestication period.
The third session was about using microbiome and feed intake data as novel phenotypes to breed resilient, efficient and healthy animals. A high amount of variability of bacterial species of bacteria is found in the healthy mammary microbiome. However, when a cow suffers from mastitis, monocultures of anaerobic species (i.e. the bad guys) are found. Dr Schukken confirmed that mastitis causes a change in microbiome and not the other way around. Another study was performed to pinpoint the environmental effect of feed digestibility. Related animals (siblings) appeared to have a closer microbiome. After recovery from infection, the original microbiome returns, so this conclusion was in line with the findings of the other presenter.
Change in individual daily feed intake was studied as novel phenotype to select for improved resilience in turkey. First results indicated that deviations from expected feed intake patterns are heritable and correlate with resilience parameters.
The Breed4Food consortium consisting of Wageningen University & Research Centre and four international animal breeding companies exists since 2012 and focusses on genetic improvement to realize a profitable livestock sector. The aim of Breed4Food is to contribute to sustainable food production by developing new innovations for breeding programmes for cattle, pigs and poultry.