Last weekend I attended my annual continuing education conference where I learned a whole host of things. One in particular that I focused a lot of time on was using genomics to select for better parent animals in your cattle herd. Genomics is genetic information, derived from an animal’s DNA, that is used to determine what genes a certain animal inherited from its parents. What I learned about is how geneticists are using portions of DNA called “single nucleotide polymorphisms” (SNPs, pronounced “snips”) to more accurately determine the genetic potential an animal has.
Since cattlemen like to raise more efficient, healthier animals, we use their genetic information to determine which animals are the best choices to become parents for the next generation. Historically, this has been done through simply looking at the animal and then looking at how well that animal’s parents have performed. However, because cattle take years to reproduce in enough numbers to get a idea of how their children will be, this method has been a bit limiting.
Genomics is changing that. Now, by looking at the SNPs in a calf’s DNA, geneticists can compare this calf’s DNA to DNA of older animals that have known performance data. This gives a cattleman a better estimate of how well this calf will do as a reproducing adult. That means we can select the better animals earlier in life, saving years of time and expense.
After I got done with the conference, I stopped by Mom and Dad’s house and was telling them about it. Much to my surprise, Mom, who enjoys doing genealogy research, told me that sounded a lot like the DNA tests that she uses to determine people’s ancestry. Sure enough, both use SNPs to help make these decisions. I thought that was pretty cool how the same technology could be applied one way for cattle, and used a second way for people. Shows how far science has come, and makes me excited about what we will be able to do in the future!