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Brendon A. O'Rourke, NSW Department of Primary Industries, State Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, Elizabeth Macarthur Agricultural Institute, Menangle

Posted Flock & Herd March 2012

Technical advances are facilitating the application of molecular genetics to enhance productivity in the livestock industries. This is being served by two pathways. First, identification of nucleotide variants that relate to beneficial production traits, and second, identification of nucleotide variants that are responsible for losses in productivity due to genetic defects.

Selection for traits of interest or elimination of undesirable traits in livestock has been practised since their domestication more than 10,000 years ago. The concept remains the same today, but the tools have improved markedly. Recent efforts to sequence complete genomes have unveiled large amounts of variation in the DNA sequences of livestock. This DNA variation is the focus of intense scrutiny to determine their association with beneficial and undesirable traits.

Genetic testing has already improved the accuracy of selection, particularly for inherited diseases. Moreover, genetic testing promises to improve the accuracy of selection for beneficial traits that are expensive and/or difficult to measure, which currently suffer from low accuracy breeding values generated from minimal performance records.

The Genetics and Molecular Diagnostics laboratory located within the State Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory at the Elizabeth Macarthur Agricultural Institute has made significant contributions in the characterisation of deleterious inherited traits through multiple research programs. The continuing outcome of this sustained research contribution over more than 10 years is the availability of the diagnostic division of the laboratory. The establishment of these genetic tests in conjunction with education programs for breed societies and seedstock producers has paved the way for 'genetically smarter' and more consumer sensitive breeding programs.


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