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SABRE Project Makes Major Livestock Breeding Progress
13/01/09

Just half way into its four-year programme and the most innovative pan-European animal genomics research project ever undertaken is making major strides in developing breeding strategies for more economically and environmentally sustainable livestock production systems.

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The integrated Cutting Edge Genomics for Sustainable Animal Breeding (SABRE) project co-ordinated by the Scottish-based Genesis Faraday Partnership has brought together almost 200 scientists from 14 countries in 12 integrated work programmes supported by the EU Sixth Research Framework Programme.

These are designed to harness key areas of emerging genomic and epigenetic science to achieve practical progress in livestock breeding to improve animal health and welfare, reduce chemical and energy inputs, minimise livestock waste and pollution, and maximise food safety and quality throughout Europe.

With many of the larger studies well underway, substantial progress was reported in a number of important areas of cattle, pig and poultry breeding improvement at the recent SABRE Welfare and Quality Genomics conference in Foulum, Denmark that marked the project’s half way stage.

These include:

  • The successful development and testing of new breeding software combining traditional and marker-assisted genetic evaluation technologies;
  • The almost complete sequencing of two priority pig chromosomes;
  • The mapping of genes responsible for higher levels of boar taint;
  • The quantification of the effectiveness of key genetic markers in conferring
    E. coli mastitis resistance in dairy cattle;
  • The understanding of key physiological processes underlying successful reproduction as the basis for identifying genes to improve fertility.

Amongst the important progress achieved here in the UK, Glasgow University and The Roslin Institute have successfully collaborated with the breeding company, Lohmann Tierzucht to develop a method to measure the cuticle of hens’ eggs and estimate the extent to which this is determined by genetics.

As the cuticle forms the egg’s first line of defense against the invasion of potentially harmful infections, this research opens up the way to selecting hens for improved cuticle coverage, thereby reducing the risk to consumers.

Commenting on the overall progress to date, Genesis Faraday Partnership chief executive, Chris Warkup said: “It’s extremely encouraging to see so many valuable results already emerging from SABRE. Especially so as the sort of basic research involved invariably takes a considerable time to deliver its greatest benefits.

“The fact that we are seeing such solid gains this early in the process is a testament to the good science and hard work being undertaken by our project partners across Europe and beyond. It bodes extremely well for the full value SABRE will deliver throughout its project life and beyond.

“The results so far underline the vital contribution research into understanding the genetic basis of difficult-to-measure livestock traits can make in the development of practical tools to help breeders improve the economic and environmental sustainability of commercial animal production in the years to come.”

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