Panelists discuss EPD functional longevity and genetic enhancements
Take a look into the future and what do you see? For the Angus breed, the future includes leaps towards better genomic understanding and expanded maternal tools for breeders. The 2022 Angus Convention featured a Genetics Symposium, sponsored by NEOGEN, which hosted a panel of industry leaders to discuss the future of genetic data.
Speakers included moderator Kelli Retallick-Riley, president of Angus Genetics Inc., and five panelists – USDA Meat Animal Research Center geneticist Larry Kuehn; André Garcia, AGI geneticist; Gale Haynes, owner of Haynes Cattle Company; Alan Miller, owner of Prairie View Farms and Chairman of the AGI Board 2021-2022; and Duc Lu, AGI geneticist.
For many years, the focus on understanding and harnessing maternal traits has been a top priority and continues to grow in importance. Providing an update on the progress of EPD functional longevity research for the American Angus Association, Garcia explained that the EPD relies on solid data in massive amounts.
“For those maternal traits, it depends on the data,” Garcia said. “We need to collect these records in order to characterize the genetic variability of the population. To get good spread and accuracy behind these EPDs, we really need to have sires with lots of daughter records in the population specifically for functional longevity which is weakly heritable.
As with any EPD, prediction is of little value without precision. Lu explained how precisions change – when new offspring data is added to an EPD with low precision, the precision changes. When new data is added to a high precision EPD (accuracy > 0.90), the precision is unlikely to change much because the bull itself is already proven with progeny data. If the animal is already genotyped, this change, or forward movement, can only occur from the collection of more phenotypic data.
“Animals with low precision need more data because there is not much information to estimate that particular animal,” Lu said. “You need to increase the number of phenotypes. You need to collect on that particular animal or its relatives in order to move accuracy.
Kuehn added that to increase the spread of EPDs, phenotype and genotype must be used in tandem to create variation in the population.
“We’re actually tying together parts of the family and assumptions about how [animals are] inherit the genetics of these families much better with genomics than we’ve ever been able to do with pedigree-based genetic evaluation systems alone,” Kuehn said.
Garcia reminded breeders that genetic change cannot happen overnight. He said that with careful planning and selection, breeders will see progress.
“Not only is it important to create a breeding goal and have clear goals of where you want to go, but also to be disciplined because to make genetic changes you need generations,” said Garcia. “Creating those goals, being disciplined and following those goals along the way, I think that’s what’s really going to move the needle to see the population evolve.”
To facilitate this forward movement, the association must continue to add value to the database and tools for members. Miller highlighted the freedom the association gives AGI to work with industry partners to develop new tools to leverage competitive advantage.
“We need to make sure we provide this superior level of tools so that our members can really be at the forefront of quantifying all kinds of traits and not fall behind competitors,” Miller said.
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