OTTAWA, Ill. — The goal is to rank animals based on their
genetic merit as accurately and as early in the animal’s life as
“That’s where we can really take advantage of genomics in
the cattle industry,” said Rod Shoenbine, cattle genetics specialist for Zoetis
“As we look at genetics, we have to remember there are two
things that go into the equation — genetics and environment,” said Shoenbine
during a presentation at the Beef Sire Selection & Management Seminar.
“Those are the two things that create the phenotype of the animal.”
Shoenbine talked about the genomic innovation timeline,
starting in 1989 when the first GeneStar test was marketed.
“A quantum leap happened around 2007, when the bovine genome
was sequenced,” he said during the meeting sponsored by Vita-Ferm, Merial,
Zoetis HD50K, ABS, Illinois Angus Association, Illinois Simmental Association
and the University of Illinois Extension.
“By 2008, we went from 11 markers to 56 markers, and we
created MVPs or molecular value predictors, which are like a breeding value,”
the specialist said.
“Along with the bovine genome sequence, they realized there
were about 50,000-plus markers within the genome of the bovine animal that
affect traits,” he said. “Now it’s up to our company to figure out what are the
markers and what traits they affect.”
Zoetis developed a 50,000-marker panel that the company is
using to evaluate from 15 to 16 traits of cattle.
“We’ve developed a relationship with breed associations to
incorporate these numbers into their EPD system,” Shoenbine said. “Rather than
having another set of numbers, we’re working with breed associations to
genomically enhance the EPD or expected progeny difference system.”
Animals are full of cells, and each one of these cells has a
nucleus packed full of DNA — the code of life, he said.
“We’re looking at the 30 pair of chromosomes that bovine
animals have,” he explained.
“We used to think these two pairs of chromosomes were
somewhat equal in terms of genetic code,” he said. “We’re finding now that one
change in that base pair can change an individual drastically.”
There are some 50,000 SNP, or single nucleotide
polymorphism, that cause some kind of change in individual animals, Shoenbine
“A SNP can generate biological variation between animals by
causing differences in the recipes of proteins and causing the structure
variation of whatever trait we’re looking at,” he added. “Some SNP leaves
differences in health or physical appearance, but most SNP lead to no observable
In the past, scientists thought individuals inherited half
of their chromosomes from the mother and half from the father.
“Now we’re realizing that’s not always how it works,”
To calculate EPDS, associations use lots of numbers
including pedigree information, the animal’s individual performance such as
weaning weight, yearling weight and scans from ultrasounds, as well as progeny
“The beautiful thing about genomic technology is that no
contemporary groups are needed,” the specialist said. “If you’re a small
producer, it’s hard to get a contemporary group to prove a young sire or female.
Now you’ve got the ability to do that using a HD 50K test.”
Using a high-density 50K test impacts the amount of time it
takes to evaluate an animal.
For example, a producer can get a DNA sample from a calf and
send it to the Angus association, which can develop EPDs after running the sire
“Within five to six weeks, you can have EPDs developed on a
calf that is still nursing a cow,” Shoenbine explained. “The accuracy levels
will range 0.29 to 0.4 depending on the trait.”
“We’re looking at maximizing the response of genetics and
selection,” he stressed.
“Sire selection drives the genetic component for commercial
productivity,” he noted. “Genomic-enhanced EPDs enable more trustworthy and
However, the genetics specialist stressed, using GE-EPDs is
not a silver bullet.
“You still need to have good management and provide the
right environment for your cattle to express their true genetics,” he added.
“But this does provide you another tool and more
information,” Schoenbine said. “You will know more so your cattle can do more
for you and your customers.”
Last year, Zoetis released another product for commercial
“Genemax only evaluates two traits — marbling and
post-weaning gain because the No. 1 reason more cattle don’t hit the Certified
Angus Beef target is marbling,” Shoenbine explained. “This product is based off
the HD 50K platform.”