Canadian Institutions Invest In Genomics Research

CANADA - Genome Alberta has announced that it is leading a group of funding partners on two large-scale genomics projects, which will help improve Canada's livestock sector. These projects build on Genome Alberta's Applied Livestock Genomics Program, which was launched in December 2010.
calendar icon 25 October 2011
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Application of genomics to improve swine health and welfare

'Application of genomics to improve swine health and welfare' is a C$12.4-million research project led by Graham Plastow from the University of Alberta, John Harding from the University of Saskatchewan and Bob Kemp from PigGen Canada.

With the mapping and sequencing of the pig genome, scientists have an opportunity to apply genomic-based tools to the pork industry. Similar tools are already part of the Canadian cattle industry and have revolutionised the dairy industry around the world. Researchers will apply genomics to help reduce the impact of two of the most common diseases in commercial pig production – Porcine Circovirus Associated Disease (PCVAD) and Porcine Respiratory and Reproductive Syndrome (PRRS). Scientists are studying mechanisms in pigs that make them genetically less susceptible to these diseases, providing important new diagnostic tools for breeders and expanding our understanding of disease control mechanisms. Public perceptions about the use of genomic technologies to prevent disease in pork production will also be examined. This work will lead to new strategies for disease control in addition to new drugs, improved vaccines and a safer food chain by reducing the use of antibiotics.

Genome Alberta is one of Canada six regional Genome Centres and on this project partnered with Genome Prairie.

Reno Pontarollo, Chief Scientific Officer for Genome Prairie, said: "Genome Prairie is proud to partner with our colleagues at Genome Alberta and the University of Alberta. The swine genomics project has been four years in the making, and we are very pleased to be able to support the important efforts that John Harding and Scott Napper at the University of Saskatchewan are bring to the initiative."

Whole genome selection through genome-wide imputation in beef cattle

'Whole genome selection through genome wide imputation in beef cattle' is a C$8.2-million research project led by Stephen Miller, University of Guelph, and Alberta researcher Stephen Moore who has recently been appointed as Director, Centre for Animal Science at the University of Queensland in Australia.

Canadian researchers were directly involved with a major international undertaking to sequence the bovine genome and are now at the forefront of developing genomic selection techniques to boost genetic improvement in cattle. This project will target traits that are difficult to improve through conventional means. Low-cost tests are being developed that will allow an animal's genome to be inferred from a relatively small number of genetic markers, giving valuable information about its breeding value at a very early age. In addition, the project will examine the potential market barriers for adoption of these genomic technologies. This will bring immediate benefits to breeders, enhance product traceability and lay the foundation for the next generation of technologies aimed at environmentally sustainable production. It is estimated that this research will generate benefits in excess of $300 million over the next 10 years. Global demand for animal protein is expected to double by 2050 and genetic improvement through this project and others like are key to helping cattle producers meet that demand.

An international science review board recommended both projects for funding based on scientific excellence, the potential to translate the research results to benefit Canadian livestock producers, and the internationally recognized project leadership.

Genome Alberta's Chief Scientific Officer, Gijs van Rooijen, said: "These projects are taking advantage of the Alberta expertise and global leadership in livestock genetics, and are excellent examples of how industry and societal needs can be integrated."

Funders for the projects include Genome Canada, Genome Alberta, the Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency, PigGen Canada, Genome Prairie, an international consortium led by the US Department of Agriculture, Western Economic Development, and a number of international agencies and organisations.

Genome Alberta's CEO, David Bailey, made the formal announcement at the Livestock Gentec Conference last week at the Delta South in Edmonton.

Gordon Cove, President and CEO of the Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency noted after the announcement was made that "livestock genomics is a key means for Alberta's livestock and meat sector to differentiate and compete at a global level". He added: "Consumers want top-quality products and genomics research will help meet that demand."

Further Reading

- Find out more information on the diseases mentioned in this article by clicking here.

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