More precised breeding of livestock high in production traits, achievable soon; PCC takes important role in International Buffalo Genome Consortium

Accurate prediction of genetic merits in water buffaloes is expected to pave the way for hastened genomic selection of animals with attributes that spell out high economic importance.

Precision in the selection of animals with, for instance, excellent milk and meat production capabilities, helps breeders propagate animals with high genetic merit only. This then ensures that the utilization of resources is done with high degree of efficiency.
International research efforts are currently focused toward the achievement of this goal. Scientists working on this field see this possibility with the imminent completion of the buffalo genome sequence.

During the first meeting of the International Buffalo Genome Consortium, held last January in San Diego, California, USA, where the Philippines is a member country represented by Dr. Libertado Cruz, executive director of the Philippine Carabao Center, the status of the completion of the buffalo genome was one of the topics presented.

It also aims to establish tools and schemes that will hasten genomic selection of water buffaloes according to traits of interest.
Related to the achievement of the consortium’s objectives, the following were also presented during the meeting: the buffalo transcriptome, discovery of single-nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) across buffalo breeds, searching for copy number variations in the buffalo genome, and domestication and genetic diversity in domestic buffalo.

Main country representatives from USA, Italy, Brazil, India, and Pakistan also attended the meeting.
Italy, based on presentations made, has already completed the sequencing of Mediterranean buffaloes.

These breeds have high milk production capabilities ranging from eight to 10 kg a day in a standard 305 days lactation period. Some of them are raised in other countries for meat production.

Studies on other breeds, such as Murrah, Surti, and Mehsana from India, have also contributed initial data in the consortium system.
Representative data from swamp buffaloes will be submitted by the Philippines as its counterpart in the consortium.
India, being the major buffalos country, takes major steps in buffalo genomics. A project was initiated by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR).

In its website, the perspective of the initiative states that “Buffalo is the first tropical animal to be sequenced and is likely to provide the biological basis for adaptive traits. Buffalo genome sequence, thus, shall help in understanding the genetic and environmental interactions which is a major focus of present day production as well as future biomedical research.”

Under this initiative, the scientific team, with members from other related research centers in India, has completed the whole genome sequence of one female Murrah buffalo using the next generation sequencing (NGS) platform.

NGS is currently used for sequencing target genes to perform association studies that are sequence-based.
ICAR puts it this way, “The buffalo genome sequence shall be continuously improved by filling the gaps and annotation of genes.”

Pakistan, through the University of Veterinary and Animal Sciences (UVAS), meanwhile, embarked on an S&T collaboration program with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) for the discovery of genetic variation that enhances improvement of dairy production and health in cattle and buffaloes.

The project overview states “the central aim of this project was to develop genomic tools to aid characterization of the structure and function of both the bovine and water buffalo genomes, then apply these tools using novel statistical methodology to accelerate genetic improvement for traits of economic importance in both species.”

A major result of the project included the generation of billions base pairs of sequence data from water buffaloes for SNP discovery and genome assembly.

With the current status of data generation, Illumina, a worldwide company that applies innovative technologies for studying genetic variation and function with headquarters in California, indicated support to the consortium’s goal.

The company said it can develop a genome chip for buffalos with 50,000 SNPs and 30,000 SNPs as add on. Said chip will be available to the consortium members by September this year.

Dr. Cruz said there is a growing interest both from Illumina and the consortium members in this development.
“This is due to the consideration that the magnitude of demand from buffalo breeders for the chip for genomic selection in water buffaloes can significantly grow,” he said.

Dr. Cruz was formerly the president of ABA and IBF.

In his post-meeting recommendation, he said the Philippines should seriously focus on building human resources for the country for it to be able to harness the advances in biotechnology.

“It is important that we train young batch of scientists in this fast growing molecular approach to genetics, bioinformatics, proteomics, among other important disciplines,” he said.

He also underscored the importance of strengthening infrastructure and equipment related to the application of biotechnology and establishing linkages abroad.

“There should be corresponding aggressive efforts to establish strong linkages with the institutions, laboratories, and scientists in more advanced countries to hasten the capacity development of our own system,” Dr. Cruz said.