Improving genetic gains in global agriculture

June 2018
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Improving genetic gains in global agriculture

Date: 19th April 2018

Location: SRUC Peter Wilson Building, King’s Buildings, West Mains Road, Edinburgh, EH9 3JG

Time: 10:30 - 17:05

Cost: Free

Over the past two decades, genomic prediction and selection have quickly become cornerstones in applied animal and plant research.

These methods have shaped breeding endeavours in dairy cattle, forest trees, and increasingly, in annual crops like wheat and maize.

The event is free but spaces are limited so if you are interested in attending please contact JR Adams ( by Monday 2 April. Further details of the event can be found in the conference brochure.


10:30-11:00: Arrival with Tea & Coffee

11:00 Opening up with brief introduction

11:05-11:40: Implementing genomic selection in UK dairy
Speaker: Prof Mike Coffey, SRUC
This talk focuses on the underpinning research and implementation of routine genomic predictions for UK dairy cattle. The talk will cover the methodological implications of genomic selection on a population scale, including statistical and computing models and methods, imputation and the role of genomics for novel/difficult to record traits including feed efficiency and TB. The talk will highlight the role of international collaboration in the development of genomic solutions for UK dairy cattle both from research and practice.

11:40-12:15: Enhanced phenotyping and genotyping in beef
Speaker: Prof Eileen Wall, SRUC
The Scottish Beef Industry is supported by the Scottish Government to help the suckler herd become as efficient as possible via the Beef Efficiency Scheme. Increasing efficiency will reduce the environmental footprint of beef production and improve overall herd profitability making Scottish beef herds and industry more sustainable, both economically and environmentally. The five year scheme will contribute to a range of improvements focusing on cattle genetics and management practice on-farm. Now in the second year of the scheme we have collected enhanced phenotype records, focusing on maternal performance, health and welfare and genotyped 20% of the calves from participating herds (over 100,000 calves genotyped to date). The talk will focus on the results from the phenotype and genotype analysis and discuss routes at how genomic selection can be used in crossbred, multi-breed populations.

12:15-13:15: Lunch & Networking

12:15-14:00: Helping the Canadian industry reap the benefits of developments in genetics
Speaker: Prof Graham Plastow, Livestock Gentec, Canada
Livestock Gentec was created in 2010 to expand on existing technology transfer and industry collaboration efforts and bring the commercial benefits of genomics to the Canadian livestock industry. Funded by Alberta Innovates, Gentec consists of a core group of highly qualified researchers across the University of Alberta and its partners in Alberta (e.g. Alberta Agriculture) and Canada (including Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and the Universities of Calgary, Guelph and Saskatchewan). Partners and collaborators also include livestock industry associations, government agencies and private sector companies from all over the world as well as significant international collaborations with leading universities and institutes. The talk will focus on how academic-industry partnership can be used to undertake genetics R&D and help with the implementation of new genetic solutions in practice within our agricultural industries.

14:00-14:45: The future of genomic selection
Speaker: Prof Ben Hayes, University of Queensland, Australia
Genomic selection is now widely applied in livestock and increasingly in crops. In dairy cattle, rates of genetic gain have almost doubled since the introduction of the technology, particularly for hard to select for traits such as fertility. However most of the current applications are based on 50,000 DNA markers or less. This limits the rates of gain that can be achieved in some circumstances. In this seminar, the potential advantages of moving to Genomic selection based on the actual mutations affecting key traits such as yield, fertility and product quality will be discussed. Options for increasing rates of gain, such as combining genomic selection with advanced reproductive technologies will be explored. Finally, novel applications of genomic selection, such as combining the best chromosome segments from different populations to breed the “ultimate” animal/individual will be discussed.

14:45-15:30: Breeding drives sustainable wheat production
Speaker: Dr. Kai Voss-Fels, University of Queensland, Australia
Despite the remarkable successes that were achieved in the history of wheat breeding, future wheat production remains challenging. At the same time there are public concerns that modern agriculture can only sustain productivity under very high chemical inputs, while the actual impact of genetic improvements remains elusive. Here, we present data of a large-scale investigation of almost 200 registered European winter wheat varieties, covering the last five decades of variety release. The comparison of different management intensities demonstrates the great impact of genetic improvement on performance increase under any environmental scenario. Using genome-wide marker information we are able to track the influence of artificial selection throughout the history of wheat breeding and to define target regions with the highest impact on agronomically important traits. Our data gives first insights into the genetic basis of the improvement of high yielding winter wheat and assesses the potential for further genetic gain in the European elite germplasm pool in the short- and mid-term.

15:30-15:50: Tea & coffee

15:50-16:35: Speed breeding to supercharge our future crops
Speaker: Dr. Lee Hickey, University of Queensland, Australia
The growing human population and a changing environment have raised significant concern for global food security, with the current improvement rate of several important crops inadequate to meet future demand. This slow improvement rate is attributed partly to the long generation times of crop plants. Here, we present a method called ‘speed breeding’, which greatly shortens generation time and accelerates breeding and research programmes. Speed breeding can be used to achieve up to 6 generations per year for a range of crops, instead of 2–3 under normal glasshouse conditions. We envisage great potential to integrate speed breeding with other modern breeding technologies, including high-throughput genotyping, genome editing and genomic selection. Using simulations based on real wheat data sets we exemplify how a combination of genomic selection and speed breeding (SpeedBreedGS) can substantially reduce the length of the breeding cycle and maximise genetic gain per unit time. We outline the opportunities and challenges associated with the fusion of these breeding tools to achieve sustainable long-term genetic gain.

16:35-17:00: Opportunities for the integration of plant and animal breeding approaches
Speaker: Prof Wayne Powell, SRUC
Over the past 100 years animal and plant breeding approaches have diverged and in this presentation we will make the case for bringing the two together through the application of genomic selection. Genomic prediction of breeding values has the potential to improve selection, reduce costs and provide a platform that unifies breeding approaches, biological discovery, and tools and methods. We will also consider how genomic selection and speed breeding can be combined to accelerate the rate of genetic gain and rapidly domesticate wild relatives and progenitors of cultivated crops.

17:00-17:05: Wrap up and thanks to speakers

17:05: Go to the pub!


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