The advent of DNA technology is rapidly progressing. In addition to the differentiation of calves as they enter the feedyard, in the near future DNA testing will allow biological screening of sires and dams for a multitude of traits, such as carcass quality and even immune resistance to specific disease.

"It is very likely that within the next 3-5 years we will see large-scale microchip DNA platforms developed, allowing the genetic selection of animals based on DNA screening for growth, feed efficiency, carcass merit, and disease resistance," says Larry Corah, assistant executive director of the Certified Angus Beef program. "This will greatly increase the sophistication of genetic selection available to the beef industry."

The microchip platforms Dr. Corah speaks of are tiny, man-made tools that would enable lab technicians to analyze hundreds of different characteristics at a time. Francis Fluharty, feedlot nutritionist at Ohio State University, describes these futuristic platforms as a golf ball the size of a pencil lead. The chip would hold the blood sample for the DNA tests. In each dimple or well of that tiny golf ball there would be a tag for a specific DNA tag or enzyme. Surrounded by the blood sample, the DNA would float over the surface of the chip. Placed in a high-tech reader that uses wavelengths to determine when something matches, each well could be analyzed to determine if the specific gene or enzyme is present.

Although it's not available yet, such DNA testing technology is probably only a few years off. Producers should keep informed of progress in this revolutionary technology.