It is hard to put into words the experience of learning about the gentle white giants that star in this story: the Nellore cattle. In an opportunity with Illumina’s Agrigenomics team, scientists Jacques Retief and Irene Predazzi traveled to Brazil to learn how genomics is revolutionizing agriculture in the area by feeding lives while reducing the burden that cattle breeding traditionally has had on the environment.
The Nellore cattle derive from Ongole cattle, which were imported to Brazil in the late 1800s. Since then, zebus have thrived in the tropical climate of Brazil, where most other cattle don’t thrive due to the heat and pests. The zebus we have seen live happy and relaxed lives in the enormous fields of Brazil, converting the energy derived from photosynthesis into proteins that can be used for human nutrition.
By now, you might be wondering how genomics fits in this bucolic story. The zebu’s genome has recently been sequenced and assembled, a milestone that has allowed for the construction of a detailed reference sequence. With the use of multiple genomic technologies, such as whole genome sequencing, genotyping by sequencing, and arrays, Brazilian researchers are identifying the SNPs (single nucleotide polymorphism) that associate with traits of interest. Breeders will then use this information in genomic selection programs, and will use data to estimate the genetic value of each animal at birth, reducing time and resources in the breeding process.
In this edition of Adventures in Genomics, Jacques and Irene will introduce you to these beautiful animals while sharing with you more about how genomics is shaping the Brazilian beef industry.