Global Recognition for NZ Discovery

A scientific approach that identifies genetic variants impacting the health of New Zealand dairy cows has been published in the prestigious scientific journal, Nature Genetics.

Scientists from LIC have leveraged their animal database to pinpoint genes responsible for major losses in production, some of which were found to be due to previously unknown genetic disorders in dairy cows.

The newly discovered genetic variants impact animal health and milk production to the tune of up to $10 million in lost production each year across the national dairy herd.

LIC chief scientist Richard Spelman noted that these discoveries reinforce the importance of continued investment in gene discovery and genetic analysis technology to help farmers breed healthier, more efficient dairy herds.

“By supporting farmers to identify and minimise the number of animals that are susceptible to particular ‘negative’ genes, we can breed cows that are more resilient, speed up the rate of genetic gain and help ensure the sustainability of New Zealand’s pastoral industries for years to come.”

Genetic insight

From spring this year, all farmers using LIC’s GeneMark DNA parentage testing service will have their calves screened for six genetic variants that have a significant impact on animal health and milk production and will be notified if any of them are affected.

Although affected animals are rare – around 0.5 per cent of calves born will be affected by one of these variants – Richard highlights the value this knowledge will deliver to farmers.

“We’re excited to transform our investment in research and development into a simple convenient service for our farmer shareholders, one that could save millions in lost production,” said Spelman.

“Knowing which calves have these genetic variations will help ensure farmers rear only the healthiest, highest-performing animals.”

Proactive approach

Traditionally the discovery of variants, which cause genetic disorders has relied on farmers notifying LIC of affected animals before scientists can attempt to find the genetic cause.

According to Spelman, LIC is now able to take a more proactive approach, which will allow them to discover rare disorders that might not have obvious physical signs.

“Our approach starts with identifying significant drops in milk production or live weight, which may give a clue the animal is impacted by some underlying genetic disorder. If further investigation confirms this is the case, we can leverage diagnostic tests to manage the variant frequency in the population.”