Update from The Centennial Celebration of the Animal Improvement Programs Laboratory (AIPL) – Oct. 28, 2008 – Baltimore, MD
By David Selner
The Animal Improvement Program Laboratory (AIPL) recently celebrated their 100th anniversary of helping United States dairy producers. At the general session of this event, scientists presented the research data that describes how genomic information can be utilized to increase the accuracy and the reliability of current genetic evaluations. Genomic research by the USDA laboratory has been ongoing for many years, but was only made possible by the cooperation of the major National Association of Animal Breeders members and Semex, who are Cooperative Dairy DNA Repository (CDDR) Contributors.
Questions have been raised as to who has access to this research data and over what time period. At this meeting, USDA scientists explained the specifics behind this research project. In the early 1980s breeding companies were approached to provide straws of semen from popular sires and all young sire progeny test sires. All of the major companies did provide this DNA material to create the DNA library at no cost to USDA. Genomic research continued through the 1980s and 1990s but no substantial marketable products were developed during this time frame. In the last few years the development of more sophisticated equipment and techniques to examine DNA in greater detail has allowed more progress. Suddenly the research became more focused on increasing genetic merit predictions with gene level data.
To avoid getting risky experimental data out in the public domain, and yet to help determine if this experimental data was truly useful a limited amount of information was shared with industry experts from the original CDDR collaborators. To formalize this process, an agreement was developed to further fund more research at USDA by the original collaborators. More DNA material and funding was provided by CDDR members and USDA granted exclusive access (one of USDA’s technology transfer mechanisms) to receive male genetic predictions during a five-year research period. USDA scientists justified this action by explaining all of the time, money and DNA material that had been provided over the last 20 years with no expectations from the original collaborators. In addition this research is still ongoing and will take several more years to complete. Even today with the January public release of genomic enhanced genetic evaluations, more research is being done to refine techniques and provide greater accuracy and reliability.
Segments of the industry, not CDDR contributors, have asked for clarification on this agreement. USDA’s simple answer was to cover the initial investment of the cooperators, to allow further investigation without misleading the whole breeding industry and to allow a reasonable transition phase into a different method of evaluating dairy genetics. No intent to slight certain segments of the industry or put them at a disadvantage was ever implied.
All genomic data completed in this first phase of research on currently marketable sires will be provided to the public in January 2009. Additional research is ongoing and will take time. The final timeline is to release all of the research genomic data on all sires in the DNA library in the spring of 2014. The genomic evaluations on females tested in approved laboratories and submitted to USDA will be made public in January 2009 by the respective breed associations as part of their normal products and services.
The concerns of some people about secrecy and exclusivity appear to be overly sensitive to their real importance. It appears to be a function of timing of the experimental data, its limited release to gain invaluable data to confirm research results and the fact that the research is still ongoing. No intent was made to keep people uninformed. Rest assured that by 2014, everyone will have access to hopefully the most accurate system of genetic evaluation in the world.