Genomics technologies have the potential to revolutionize agriculture, taking the guesswork out of selective breeding and bringing human-scale tools to the fight against inherited disease. Much agrigenomics work has happened in laboratories, resulting in published genomes for many common domestic plant and animal species as well as the identification of the genetic signatures of various beneficial and deleterious traits. Making that information useful to the people who breed, use and sell farm animals has been a slower process, one that Dr. Brenda Mae Murdoch, professor of animal and veterinary science at the University of Idaho, hopes to improve.
Dr. Murdoch has extensive experience with targeted genotyping-by-sequencing (GBS) and animal genomics, starting with microsatellite markers and lately expanding into single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs). Her current goal is to make genotyping technologies more accessible to sheep farmers using AgriSeq genotyping-by-sequencing panels. As she tells it, “What I wanted to do with this technology, knowing that genotyping is actually pretty straightforward and pretty simple, is to be able to collect information that scientists have already gathered and put together a tool for the livestock community to use at a very inexpensive price.” This would put the power of animal genomics in the hands of the people who need it most.
Farmers can purchase Dr. Murdoch’s targeted genotyping tools through the Superior Farms farming cooperative and use them to check for disease markers, collect parentage information and examine included discovery SNPs. Farmers can also return the output of those discovery SNPs to the University of Idaho to share this information with the scientific community. This cycle improves both scientific understanding and future generations of agrigenomics tools. In this way, Dr. Murdoch hopes “to help producers make better and earlier production selections.”
How does working directly with farmers on targeted GBS help scientists?
Working directly with farmers is critical to the future of agrigenomics. Farmers are major beneficiaries of all agrigenomics work and this fact must inform the priorities of agrigenomics research. By staying in contact with farmers, scientists are more aware of what problems farmers need addressed and what tools they need help using. These community relationships keep scientists connected to the outcomes of their work outside the laboratory, keep the general public aware of the benefits that science can bring them, and provide valuable on-the-ground data that can speed up scientific research.
In Dr. Murdoch’s case, working closely with sheep producers helps her and her team keep her tools optimized for their needs, resulting in steady improvement in both the resulting data and the possible markers they can identify. Similarly, staying in contact with farmers enables scientists to translate information from other, denser studies, particularly those with human or rodent data, into forms that have more immediate and practical utility in the field.
There are many genomics approaches—as Dr. Murdoch puts it, “a lot of alternatives, and great ones.” AgriSeq distinguishes itself for Dr. Murdoch by being “very inexpensive” compared to other, similarly effective tools. When producers are looking for systems they can use, those costs add up very quickly, and an inexpensive solution is very appealing. In her own words, “this technology is both very flexible and cost-effective.” This combination of low cost and high flexibility makes AgriSeq targeted genomics panels a natural solution for variable, expanding fields such as modernizing sheep breeding practices and helping farmers stay up-to-date and profitable.
Dr. Murdoch also has advice for people interested in taking on genomics projects for their own agricultural needs: “Do your homework.” Making effective use of this powerful technology requires some forethought and focus so that one’s efforts can be appropriately directed. Taking the time to do some preliminary bioinformatics, identify target sequences and verify the genomic information already available will go a long way toward making sure one’s first steps into agrigenomics go smoothly and lead to usable, effective results. The agrigenomics team at Thermo Fisher Scientific “has been very great at helping with that kind of thing,” and is available to get others started in genotyping-by-sequencing.
Dr. Murdoch sees a bright future ahead for agrigenomics genotyping-by-sequencing tools. There are other distinctions and markers that can be added to existing panels. In particular, DNA methylation and similar epigenetic traces can yield relevant information once incorporated into easy-to-use genomics platforms. Combining several kinds of markers and readings into a single assay will elicit even deeper data than any one form can achieve, making sure farmers have the best information available on which to base their production decisions.
For more information about agrigenomics, use our contact form or read about how AgriSeq technology supports agrigenomics research and Axiom analysis tools enable cutting-edge agrigenomics research. You can also download our brochure.
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