Bill Bowman is a Missouri farm boy who never imagined a career dealing with numbers—like the millions of data points in the American Angus Association’s database. Today he’s chief operating officer of the American Angus Association and president of Angus Genetics Inc. (AGI), a subsidiary of the Association. He oversees performance programs for the nation’s largest breed and cultivates the implementation of some sophisticated DNA technology.
Bowman puts his leadership of AGI this way: He doesn’t know all the intricacies of what makes a car run, but he can jump into his Buick and drive. He claims the same is true with the Association’s database, giving full credit to his cohort and in this case, chief mechanic, genetic director Sally Northcutt. Nevertheless, this former Beef Improvement Federation board member is one of the leaders in DNA technology transfer, so I decided to talk with him about the state of genetic predictions today.
Q. Although it’s been around for five years now, I’m not sure everybody fully understands what Angus Genetics Inc. is and what it does. First, why form another subsidiary?
A. It was created in 2007 with two main objectives: First, we saw universities had begun to pull back from providing service in the genetic evaluation realm and running EPDs (expected progeny differences). Our board had seen that coming and made provisions with computer technology and staff to bring all of that in-house by 2004.
With the expertise and ability to run those evaluations, we offered to provide that service to other organizations in North America. AGI currently runs evaluations for eight other breed organizations as well.
The second objective was to look at new technology, specifically genomics or DNA, and try to help drive some of the research and implementation. Our efforts focus on using that technology and incorporating it into genetic improvement.
Q. What was the status of DNA technology when AGI was created and what’s the state-of-state on that front now?
A. In reality, when AGI was created there were a few genomic tests available for some specific traits. They were very limited tests in terms of their efficacy and the number of markers they incorporated. The technology has just exploded over the last five years with new platforms, greater efficacy and reduced costs to run. Before we may have been trying to use three or four markers to evaluate marbling and today, in the seedstock business, we use the high-density 50K chip that would utilize over 50,000 “snips” - from SNPs, single-nucleotide polymorphisms. (Writer’s note: From this answer, we now know that he can at least pop the hood on that Buick and fiddle with the spark plug wires.)