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RESEARCH ARTICLE (Open Access)

Integration of genomic information into beef cattle and sheep genetic evaluations in Australia

Andrew A. Swan A B D , David J. Johnston A C , Daniel J. Brown A B , Bruce Tier A C and Hans-U. Graser A C
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A Animal Genetics and Breeding Unit (AGBU1), University of New England, Armidale, NSW 2351, Australia.

B The CRC for Sheep Industry Innovation, University of New England, Armidale, NSW 2351, Australia.

C The CRC for Beef Genetics Technology, University of New England, Armidale, NSW 2351, Australia.

D Corresponding author. Email: andrew.swan@une.edu.au

Animal Production Science 52(3) 126-132 https://doi.org/10.1071/AN11117
Submitted: 20 June 2011  Accepted: 1 November 2011   Published: 19 December 2011

Abstract

Genomic information has the potential to change the way beef cattle and sheep are selected and to substantially increase genetic gains. Ideally, genomic data will be used in combination with pedigree and phenotypic data to increase the accuracy of estimated breeding values (EBVs) and selection indexes. The first example of this in Australia was the integration of four markers for tenderness into beef cattle breeding values. Subsequently, the availability of high-density single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) panels has made selection using genomic information possible, while at the same time creating significant challenges for genetic evaluation with regard to both data management and statistical modelling. Reference populations have been established in both the beef cattle and sheep industries, in which an extensive range of phenotypes have been collected and animals genotyped mainly using 50K SNP panels. From this information, genomic predictions of breeding value have been developed, albeit with varying levels of accuracy. These predictions have been incorporated into routine genetic evaluations using three approaches and trial results are now available to breeders. In the first, genomic predictions have been included in genetic evaluation models as additional traits. The challenges with this method have been the construction of consistent genetic covariance matrices, and a significant increase in computing time. The second approach has been to use a selection index procedure to blend genomic predictions with existing EBVs. This method has been shown to produce very similar results, and has the advantage of being simple to implement and fast to operate, although consistent genetic covariance matrices are still required. Third, in sheep a single-step analysis combining a genomic relationship matrix with a standard pedigree-based relationship matrix has been used to estimate breeding values for carcass and eating-quality traits. It is likely that this procedure or one similar will be incorporated into routine evaluations in the near future. While significant progress has been made in implementing methods of integrating genomic information in both beef and sheep evaluations in Australia, the major challenges for the future will be to continue to collect the phenotypes needed to derive accurate genomic predictions, and in managing much larger volumes of genomic data as the number of animals genotyped and the density of markers increase.


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