It was only about 17 months ago that the Beef Improvement Association highlighted DNA testing at its eighth genetic-improvement workshop in Kansas City. I entered this meeting with feelings of high excitement over the potential of this technology for cattle breeding. I was still excited when I left the meeting, but I was also apprehensive.
It was exciting to learn that several commercial laboratories were already offering DNA tests. But I heard scientists question the state of the art in genetic testing. And breed-association executives fretted about possible conflicts with the existing performance-prediction program (National Cattle Evaluation EPDs). Considering that decades were required to perfect EPDs, I wondered if anything this complicated could be implemented expeditiously.
But now, after only 17 months, another DNA meeting has fanned my excitement. Sponsored by the American International Charolais Association of Kansas City, the meeting’s purpose was to publicize and promote this new technology. The proceedings were distributed live via the Internet on the Charolais association’s Web site.
It was made clear that much has been done since the 2003 BIF meeting to address the questions and concerns that surfaced there. A validation service for claims being made by the genomics laboratories is now being offered by the National Beef Cattle Evaluation Consortium, which is made up of scientists at the University of Georgia, Cornell University and Colorado State University. This consortium uses its own testing protocol and is well-positioned to do unbiased evaluations.
It was exciting to find (and surprising to some extent) that the testing laboratories are supporting and using the NBCEC service. This is extraordinary, considering the testing laboratories are independent businesses with tests to sell and investments to reclaim. It is not often that companies and customers get in the same bed like this.
An official of a testing company, Calvin Gunter, director of corporate development for Bovigen LLC, recently told me this: “We are wholeheartedly in support of third-party validation of the marker tests. From our first month in business, we have been in discussions with the National Beef Cattle Consortium about validation. In fact, we have already taken one product to them with the intention of validation and stopped it because it became evident that the product would never withstand scrutiny.”
Although there was not a breed-association speaker on the program, I came away with the feeling that the events of the past 17 months have done much to blunt the apprehension of the breed associations. It can’t be overlooked that the Simmental association has initiated a DNA-based EPD for tenderness. And, the fact that the Charolais association sponsored the conference says a lot. This would not have occurred if Charolais breeders were
not taking the technology seriously and see assisted marker EPDs in their future. Further, all speakers predicted that DNA information will make EPDs more powerful as a selection tool.
Addresses by Jerry Taylor of the University of Missouri School of Animal Science and Mark Allan of the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center in Nebraska painted a particularly bright future for DNA research. It appears that important discoveries, if not imminent, are on the nearby horizon because of work being done at these institutions.
I think that you as breeders, both seedstock and commercial, should share my excitement about DNA technology. Don’t sit on your fence as many of you did for so long about EPDs. Begin using every feasible test and, by all means, support emerging plans to incorporate DNA information in the formulae for EPDs. Good information is available through the Web sites of the Beef Improvement Association (www.beefimprovement.org) and the genomics laboratories. Columns I have written in the past 17 months are available on the Drovers Web site at www.drovers.com. Click on links, enter my name, and select genetics in the resulting screen.
To contact Fred Knop, write Drovers or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org