Lawrence R. Schaeffer talks
with ScienceWatch.com and answers a few questions
about this month's Fast Moving Front in the field of Plant
& Animal Science.
Article: Strategy for applying genome-wide
selection in dairy cattle
Journal: J ANIM BREED GENET, 123 (4): 218-223 AUG
Addresses: Univ Guelph, Dept Anim & Poultry Sci, Ctr
Genet Improvement Livestock, Guelph, ON N1G 2W1,
Univ Guelph, Dept Anim & Poultry Sci, Ctr Genet
Improvement Livestock, Guelph, ON N1G 2W1, Canada.
Why do you think your paper is highly
It was the first paper that looked at the effects of genome-wide selection
on dairy cattle bull progeny testing, and showed that the gains in improved
genetic progress and lowered costs could be very significant. I think the
paper sort of woke everyone up. I also published the paper quickly so that
no one could patent those ideas, and that they would be available to
Does it describe a new discovery, methodology, or
synthesis of knowledge?
It described the potential advantages of genome-wide selection, which were
considerable when compared to current practices in dairy cattle progeny
Would you summarize the significance of your paper
in layman's terms?
"I also published the paper quickly
so that no one could patent those ideas, and
that they would be available to
By using single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) panels of many thousands of
markers, it is possible to genotype animals at birth and to predict the
animal's genetic merit with an accuracy equivalent to that of a newly
progeny-tested bull, but without waiting five years to get that same level
A progeny-tested bull costs approximately $50,000 in terms of food and
maintenance over five years, while genotyping a bull calf will cost less
than $300 within the first month of the life of that animal. Only one in 20
progeny-tested bulls is returned to duty to inseminate cows. With genotypes
at birth, the 19 poor bulls can be screened early and never entered into
How did you become involved in this research and
were any particular problems encountered along the way?
We had a project with the Semex Alliance (artificial insemination
organization) to work on predicting genetic merit for genotyped animals. I
decided to look at how these predictions were going to be used, assuming
that the accuracy was going to be very favorable.
The problems during the project were obtaining the money to genotype bulls,
and getting genotypes back from the lab quickly enough, but these did not
impact on my paper. The accuracy of the predictions of genetic merit turned
out not to be as high as anticipated, but they were high enough to be
useful, as I showed in later simulations.
Where do you see your research leading in the
Future research will be on how individual dairy producers might use this
technology, how to make the predictions of genetic merit more accurate, and
what will be the long-term effects of using this technology.
Do you foresee any social or political implications
for your research?
The political implications will be conflicts with groups that will patent
areas of the genome, such that the SNP markers could not be used because
they are too close to the patented gene. Patented genes, in dairy cattle at
least, will not be used if they demand royalties for their use. This will
make genetic predictions less accurate and less useful. You can probably
tell that I am opposed to patenting genetic material, genes, and
Lawrence R. Schaeffer, Ph.D.
Professor of Animal Breeding
University of Guelph
Guelph, Ontario, Canada