Know your genomics companies

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The science and application of DNA testing and genomic-enhanced selection in beef cattle continues to advance. Recent changes in the two major companies offering genomics services, however, could create some confusion. During the Cattle Industry Convention in Tampa, we caught up with representatives of Igenity and Zoetis (formerly Pfizer Animal Health) for an update.

Igenity had been a division of animal-health company Merial, but in 2012 was purchased by Neogen Corporation, which also owns genomics company GeneSeek.

Earlier this month, Zoetis began operations as an independent, publicly traded company after splitting from pharmaceutical giant Pfizer. Pfizer Animal Health included Pfizer Animal Genetics, which remains as a division of Zoetis.

Now that that’s all cleared up, here are a few updates on what’s happening at each company.

At Zoetis, technical services specialist Kent Andersen, PhD., says the company has reduced the cost of its HD 50K for Angus cattle to $75, while also “retraining” genetic markers and recalibrating the test, resulting in stronger correlations. For several traits, the test on a yearling bull or heifer provides accuracy equivalent to records on up to 20 progeny. The test covers 18 important traits including measures of heifer pregnancy, calving ease direct and residual average daily gain. Zoetis offers the HD 50K test in partnership with Angus Genetics Inc.

Andersen says demand continues to increase, with growing numbers of seedstock and commercial producers using the tests. Some commercial producers use the full HD 50K test on replacement heifers, but a more typical approach is to purchase tested bulls and test replacement heifers with the $17 GeneMax test. GeneMax, developed in partnership with Certified Angus Beef, is a scaled-down test providing genomic ratings for growth and carcass merit along with sire identity.

Zoetis currently is engaged in a large project with Five Rivers Cattle Feeding, testing 4,000 commercial heifers to determine which go into breeding programs and which go to the feedyard. The company also has reached an agreement with the Red Angus Association to develop genomic-enhanced EPDs specific to Red Angus cattle.

At Igenity, Steward Bauck, PhD., director of beef genomics, says the company’s relationship with GeneSeek allows a more streamlined process for analyzing DNA samples. During the convention, the company announced the availability of the new “GeneSeek Genomic Profiler Bovine HD,” which features nearly 80,000 SNPs for highly accurate genomic-enhanced EPDs.  Earlier this month, Igenity announced its profile for Angus cattle is available to American Angus Association (AAA) members for $47, and members can receive a genomic-based parentage test with the profile for a total of $59 through a partnership with Angus Genetics Inc., a subsidiary of AAA.  Igenity and GeneSeek also recently announced they will offer specific profiles enabling genomic-enhanced EPDS for the Simmental and Hereford breeds.

Bauck stresses that as cattle prices rise, genomic testing becomes increasingly valuable as a risk-management tool. Genomic-enhanced EPDs allow greater accuracy in evaluating and purchasing yearling bulls, and the seedstock producers pay for it, making tested bulls a smart buy for commercial producers. Cow-calf producers also have less margin for error in selecting or purchasing replacement heifers, which now have a value of $1,200 or more per head. The company’s $20 profile for replacement heifers makes selection more accurate and objective, and producers increasingly test their heifers in the spring and use the information as a selection tool in the fall.



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