Genomics research results in $121 million boost

merino-ewes-Gilgandra

The benefits resulting from genomic technologies are long term and will extend well beyond 2029.

The sheep industry is on the way to realising a boost in value by more than $121 million dollars by 2029 thanks to the Sheep CRC’s 12-year genomics research program and its high-impact DNA testing products.

An economic analysis conducted to assess the long-term performance of the soon-to-end Cooperative Research Centre for Sheep Industry Innovation (Sheep CRC), has estimated this net present value based on the present rate of adoption of DNA testing and the impact it will have on productivity over a 15-year period from 2015-2029.

The study measured the benefits already accrued to industry since the commercial release of sheep DNA tests in 2015, and factored in the cost of research, development and commercialisation of these technologies, including $30M in foundational research conducted in the previous term of the Sheep CRC from 2007-2014.

Sheep CRC chief executive James Rowe said the estimates, which were independently reviewed, showed an overall cost:benefit ratio of 1:2.55.

“It should be noted that benefits resulting from genomic technologies are long term and will extend well beyond 2029,” Prof. Rowe said.

“In fact, in the next five years alone the current level of benefit will double in size due to the cumulative and permanent effect of genetic improvement – therefore the estimate of a $2.55 return on every dollar spent by the CRC is considered conservative.

“Ram breeders using genomics can achieve increased genetic gain each year and these gains are compounded annually with value accrued from benefits such as selecting for eating quality, which increases the value of genetic improvement, and the increase in demand for rams with ASBV figures.”

Prof. Rowe said the impacts of faster genetic gain included increased livestock productivity, the breeding of animals more resilient to environmental risks, and the ability to select for product quality to achieve higher prices for meat and wool.

Achieving these gains has come on the back of a major Commonwealth and industry investment in the collaborative research activities of the Sheep CRC.

These have included conducting full sequence DNA analysis of 500 rams in 2015 to improve information for imputation analysis and to identify predictive SNPs that could be incorporated in future DNA tests; developing a single-step analysis for incorporating genomic information in predicting breeding values; employing specialist post-doctoral fellows with expertise in the field of genomic analysis; and the investment of running Meat & Livestock Australia’s Resource Flock.

“The prediction of traits difficult to measure was a particular focus of the genomic analysis,” Prof. Rowe said. “But the end result of improving the design of the DNA test and taking advantage of new technologies for SNP chip analysis has resulted in decreased costs of testing and rapidly accelerating adoption.

“Over the last five years the price of genomic profiling has fallen from $50 per test to $27, and the number of tests has sky-rocketed with 24,000 genotyping tests sold in 2018, plus a further 75,000 parentage tests.

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