What do you get the researcher who has everything? While ties and socks are always appreciated, nothing beats a big pile of data (is there a gift card for that?). That’s certainly true for participants in the Efficient Dairy Genome Project, which is tapping the power of genomics to breed dairy cattle that are more feed efficient and produce less methane, while still maintaining the high productivity, health and fertility of dairy cows.
At the University of Guelph, researchers are getting their wish in the form of a huge database to support the project.
“An ongoing challenge for us in doing these studies on novel traits is the time and money required to collect all the data we need,” said Luiz Brito, a post-doctoral researcher, who holds a Ph.D. Degree in Animal Genetics and Genomics from The University of Guelph.
“One option is to combine data from various research groups around the world who are working on the same traits, as we all have similar goals.”
The main purpose of such a database is to increase the reliability of genomic prediction of breeding values for feed efficiency and methane emission in Canada and international partners. In addition, a larger dataset will increase the likelihood of scientific discoveries, such as a better understanding of the genetic architecture and other factors that influence these novel traits.
Churning up data
As difficult as it is for researchers to gather large amounts of data, developing a database to house and make sense of it all is no small feat either.
“We’ve been working with the Canadian Dairy Network (CDN) to set up a secure database and a computationally efficient data exchange to make it all possible. The database will be housed at the CDN which already hosts the national database containing all dairy performance data in Canada, so they have the infrastructure in place to collect large data sets.”
Brito is thrilled to receive data from partners all over the world including Australia, the United States, the U.K., Switzerland, and Denmark, with negotiations underway for more countries to join in. At the same time, it presents some unique challenges.
“Because each partner collects and stores data in a different format, I’m working right now on standardizing the process to convert all data to a common format that we can use and redistribute to participants. It’s important to be comparing apples to apples.”
So what all does that data include?
“We’re gathering information on genotypes, pedigrees and phenotypes. As part of the Efficient Dairy Genome Project, in addition to the two main traits, we’re also looking at ones that help measure or can be biological indicators of those two such as milk production and composition and rumen microbiome.”
The more the merrier
They say “more isn’t always better”; in this case, however, Brito would disagree.
“The more data we collect, the more accurate the genomic selection becomes. And as we generate more precise breeding values, it means the producer can make greater genetic progress, boosting the bottom line through greater feed efficiency while reducing the environmental footprint of dairy production in Canada and worldwide.”
As someone from a farming background, Brito is excited both by that prospect and the fact that the database he’s working on is vital to the project’s success.
He’s also encouraged by the long-term prospects for the database.
“It will ensure a continuous and secure flow of information that remains functional long after this project ends. We want something in place that will continue receiving data and re-distributing it to our partners for years to come.”
So nothing against ties and socks, but for a memorable researcher gift, you can’t top a fully stocked database. And if they try returning it for a refund, good luck with that.