After millions of dollars invested, thousands of hours of research and cattle testing, what will happen to genomics research after July 2012?
It's the question being asked when the Beef Co-operative Research Centre (CRC) - which has driven genomics research and development in Australia for the past 21 years - wraps up at the end of this month.
This was also the question posed to commercial cattle producers, seedstock producers, breed societies and researchers in Brisbane at the Beef CRC's final forum last week.
An impressive line of guest speakers reassured the audience that the CRC has left the Australian beef industry with skills, knowledge and the ability to collaborate, which will see Australia continue to lead genetic research and development (R and D).
Dr Hans Graser, director of the Animal Genetics and Breeding Unit (AGBU), a joint unit of NSW Department of Primary Industries and the University of New England, said that after July, the CRC's data will be securely assembled on databases at AGBU.
"This data will be available to others for research," Dr Graser said.
"All data that is useful to Breedplan will be copied to the National Beef Recording Scheme databases.
"All genotypes useful to breeds will be made available to them.
As R and D providers, we will continue to analyse old and new data in different ways, and to co-operate and share our findings.
"Now we'll have to apply to MLA to fund more such work.
"The data we have now isn't sufficient to continue to have a great long-term impact on industry.
"Most production data is two generations old. Some of this data has little genetic linkage to today's animals.
"We have to ask the question, what R and D comes next for us?
The post-CRC genomics times will be as exciting as the CRC period - there is plenty more to do for younger scientists.
"Breed societies and breeders will need to get more involved in phenotyping and genotyping like the Beef Information Nucleus program already running.
"But if breeders don't use the estimated breeding values for selection, the benefits of all that work will be small."
Angus Australia CEO Dr Peter Parnell is excited about the future of genomics development.
"There are a lot of potential benefits available to the beef industry," he said.
"We'll have access to cheaper, more accurate parentage verification, be able to screen for recessive effects, improved accuracy of genetic evaluation and work on management of inbreeding and genetic diversity.
"To be able to harness the potential of parentage verification, we need to transition from microsatellite to SNP-based parentage verification.
"We also need to assemble SNP profiles on key ancestors, and/or use STR haplotypes. Angus Australia is likely to increase future parentage QA requirements for registration.
"To make the most of the tool available for screening of recessive effects, we need to incorporate informative SNPs on new custom panels.
To harness the potential of genetic evaluation, we need improved predictions/calibration.
"We also need to consider Angus-specific information versus across-the-breed data.
International collaboration will likely drive Angus-specific calibrations. Management of inbreeding is also something we can harness.
"There is a limited effective population size in the Australian Angus population, with the population dominated by US genetics, and a need for tools for future use of genomics relationships in mating plans.
"We need tools to realistically undertake cost analyses to demonstrate the value proposition, and to overcome current industry scepticism.
"Commercialisation requires competition and viable business models underpinned by ongoing beef genomics R and D.
"These are all issues of future consideration."
Alex McDonald, Limousin Society general manager, believes the future of genomics research lies in continuous addition of phenotypes and genotypes to the Breedplan databases and regular recalibration.
"There are a number of breed societies yet to fully embrace genomics research," Mr McDonald said.
"Only breeds which continue to collect extensive phenotypic data will get prediction equations of reasonable accuracy. Going forward, breed calibrations will be updated on a regular basis.
"R and D needs to automate and simplify this process and genetic analyses will utilise relationship models.
"The use of genomics technologies to predict genotypes has happened much slower than expected in 2004, before the bovine genome sequence became available.
The future is exciting for those breeds which embrace the technology by accumulating phenotypes and genotypes."
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