A collaborative research and outreach project involving seedstock breeders along with university and USDA researchers seeks to unravel genetic influences in beef-cattle growth.

University of Nebraska animal scientist Matt Spangler, Ph.D., says the” Weight Trait Project” which just completed its first year, intends to demonstrate the process of going from DNA samples collected on the ranch to molecular breeding values and then marker-assisted expected progeny differences.

As DNA technology advances and provides a growing pool of data on the bovine genome, researchers face the challenge of translating genomic information into practical selection tools – such as EPDs – that producers can apply toward their cattle-breeding goals, especially between breeds.

In addition to educating producers and aid in adoption of DNA technology, Spangler says project leaders hope to develop a “vast resource population for the validation of current and future genomic predictions and for the development of statistical methodology related to genomic selection.”

As they planned the project, researchers contacted breed associations representing the seven breeds in the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center Cycle VII population – Angus, Hereford, Red Angus, Simmental, Charolais, Limousin and Gelbvieh. The associations helped identify seedstock producers in the region surrounding USMARC to provide DNA samples from calves born in 2009 and their dams.

During the first year, the researchers worked with IGENITY to genotype about 3,500 bull calves from 20 herds, using a marker panel focused on weaning weight and yearling weight.

During the first year of the project, researchers began evaluating the heritability of weaning weights, and correlations between molecular breeding values for weaning weight and actual weights.

Spangler says the team gained critical knowledge related to the efficacy of reduced panels across breeds. Integrated projects that engage researchers, Extension personnel, producers, and breed associations, he adds, are critical to the further development and employment of genomic selection tools.

The project is creating a vast genomic resource that continues to grow in order to investigate questions that still exist related to the use of DNA technology. Currently, the Weight Trait Project population is being used to validate genomic predictions from USMARC and in the development and further validation of across breed genomic predictions with, Spangler says, “exciting preliminary results.” The project’s cattle population will also be heavily involved in a multi-state USDA-funded project that seeks to develop genomic tools for feed efficiency. Products developed from the project, such as extensive genotypes, are openly available to respective breed associations to use in the development of training or validation populations.

Stay tuned, as Drovers/CattleNetwork plans to cover these projects as results become available.