MerinoLink & University of New England
DNA Stimulation Project- project overview
Prepared by Sally Martin, MerinoLink CEO, (updated 22nd July 2018)
The MerinoLink & University of New England (UNE) UNE DNA Stimulation project is a partnership with UNE, MerinoLink, MLA Donor Company and the project Participants which includes 26 Merino ram breeders and up to 200 commercial Merino breeders.
How will this project be different? The MerinoLink & UNE DNA Stimulation project is not about testing whether genetic tools work or the implementation of single tools in set situations but taking the best tools and knowledge from our world leading researchers and delivering it through service providers and ram breeders to commercial producers and building a supported system to best use the genetic tools in industry. The project will focus on capacity building and working collaboratively at all levels within and across the industry.
The MerinoLink & UNE DNA Stimulation project is funded on a 50:50 basis with project participants and the MLA Donor Company. The project has been instigated by MerinoLink Limited and is managed by MerinoLink and supported by the University of New England. The project will work with 26 ram breeders and up to 200 commercial breeders across Australia.
Below are the location of the ram breeder participants (green).
Below are the locations of the commercial breeder participants (as at 1st July 2018)
The aim of the MerinoLink & UNE DNA Stimulation project team is to work with a group of seed stock and commercial breeders to increase their use of genetic and genomic tools currently available with the aim to double genetic gain in line with the MLA’s National Livestock Genetic Consortium’s strategic direction by 2022.
The project also aims to genetically benchmark a cross section of the commercial breeders in Western Australia, NSW and Victoria (however the project is not limited to these states). The project team will work with the commercial breeder participants to explore the use of ASBVs in conjunction with their current ram selection practices and how to understand and interpret the Genomic Flock Profile for the best results.
Process – Ram Breeders – Each ram breeder will have their flocks current position benchmarked using the Sheep Genetic RAMPing-Up and genetic trend reports (if available). The information gained from the initial benchmark will be used to assess the participants current strengths and target opportunities for improvements to achieve and realise their breeding objective. Each ram breeder will have the opportunity to participate in an annual one on one meeting with the project team and attend an annual workshop. The annual workshop will aim to address key issues identified in the one on one meetings, facilitate greater networking and collaboration amongst ram breeder participants and service providers and identify next step actions for the project and post project.
Process – Commercial Breeders – Conduct a Genomic Flock Profile with up to 200 commercial flocks (initial benchmark) on the 2017 drop ewe lambs/weaners. Each project participant will be expected to attend a workshop to discuss the results and work through options for future ram purchases. The project participant will be able to take the results back to their ram source and work with the ram breeder to address the strengths and weaknesses of the results. A repeat Genomic Flock Profile will be conducted after 4 years (2021) and compared with the initial benchmark results to assess what gains have been achieved. In addition to the Genetic Flock Profile the project will attempt to benchmark other production measurements to assist in monitoring any improvements in productivity. Each participant will have the opportunity to participate in an annual workshop that will focus on understanding and interpreting results, assessing ram team genetic merit, setting targets for the next ram buying season and fine-tuning breeding objectives to maximise production targets.
- To increase the number of Merino ram breeders submitting full pedigree data to Sheep Genetics by 100% (greater than 95% full pedigree). The impact will be to increase the accuracy of ASBV’s and genetic gain.
- To increase the use of genomic testing by Merino ram breeders to select stud sires. The impact will improve ASBV accuracy and increase selection response.
- To increase the number of Merino ram breeders that use MateSel to maximise genetic gain.
- To increase the number of commercial Merino breeder using Flock Profile tests to benchmark their genetic progress and target ram selection by incorporating the information in RamSelect.
- To explore the use of the Flock Profile test by ram breeders and their clients to better tailor ram selection to client needs and measure changes in genetic merit and changes in breeding programs over time.
- To facilitate data collection and genomic testing to enhance the existing genomic reference population.
- To test the concept for ram breeders to carry out genomic testing only, without phenotypic measurement, whilst being supported by an industry run reference flock that they are strategically linked to.
- To provide an extension process to guide, facilitate and explore optimal use of DNA testing for both parentage and genomic selection, as well as mate selection and explore future opportunities with the project participants.
- To train and mentor service providers in the application of DNA testing and genomic selection in Merino breeding programs.