GenomNZ™ genetic testing laboratory yields more valuable information

At Genomnz, AgResearch’s commercial genotyping laboratory, more things become possible with a piece of DNA. And with the technology developing rapidly, more economically valuable information is being gathered from DNA than ever before.

Genomnz Manager, Ed Styles says an area where the benefits of DNA testing are being seen is in the productivity of sheep, which had a compounding rate of increase of about 2.5 per cent a year.

“Over the last quarter of a century there has been about an 86% increase in kilograms of meat sold per adult ewe,” he says.

“This productivity improvement is thought to have come from better management practices and from genetic gains. A contributing factor to the increase in genetic gain has come from better ram selection due to DNA based technologies.”

Since 2001 Genomnz have undertaken tests to identify parentage and production traits which allow ram breeders to assess ram performance in a commercial environment and to select rams based on their potential to breed higher producing progeny.

Ram breeders have harnessed DNA technology to allow them to run larger mobs more extensively and apply greater selection pressure.

“Commercial farmers are able to capture the benefits of the fast genetic gain made by ram breeders by utilising the breeding values (BVs) and indexes from Sheep Improvement Limited (SIL) when purchasing rams,” says Mr Styles.

The tests that GenomNZ undertake cover microsatellite and single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) parentage panels, several single production trait tests and now SNP chips for genomic selection.

The tests have been developed through AgResearch’s Animal Genomics team with funding predominantly from Ovita Limited. All sheep DNA testing is performed under contract for Zoetis NZ Ltd.

Genomnz began microsatellite parentage testing in 2001 and the popularity of the test increased over time with a peak of sample numbers in 2007. Sample numbers have since decreased which overlaps with a switch to running a SNP parentage panel.

Tests for increased muscling of the loin and rump were introduced a few years after the parentage test, and saw a similar increase in popularity, with a peak of tests conducted in 2007.

Genomnz also undertakes two tests for increased ovulation and fertility that have been widely used in New Zealand and internationally.

The latest genotyping technology used by Genomnz is the 5K SNP chip, which is cheaper and more accessible to breeders then the previous 50K SNP chip, which was first run commercially by Genomnz in 2010.

Use of the low and medium density (5K and 50K) SNP chips has been estimated to generate $200 million for the New Zealand industry over the next 15 years.