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Gene marker tests get better, cheaper

Agriculture.com Staff 02/03/2006 @ 8:28am

Cattle DNA selection technology took another step forward this week, according to Merial Igenity, one of the leading companies in developing DNA tests to identify superior breeding stock. Igenity announced a couple of new DNA tools for the beef industry at the Cattle Industy Convention in Denver.

One of the new tools unveiled is Igenity MultiMark. With this new tool, a single drop of blood or a hair sample can reveal three different DNA characteristics of the animal. They include meat tenderness (Igenity TenderGene), parentage (Igenity ParentMatch), and coat color test (DoubleBlack).

The advantage to a beef producer is that he can get several tests at once, at lower cost. Previously, each of these tests was administered separately, at a separate cost. With MultiMark, it's one test, and one cost.

Igenity's Kevin DeHaan says that the individual test for TenderGene is $40-$45, while the parent test and the color test are $25-$30. With the new test, you can get all three at once for $35. "It's a great value to the producer," says DeHaan. "It's largely driven by new and better technology that lets us do multiple screenings at once, at a lower price." He said that as other gene marker tests come along, such as carcass traits, fertility, or health, they can be added to the MultiMark test.

Igenity has also announced an upgrade to the TenderGene test. It used to include two gene location markers, but the Meat Animal Research Center has found new sites that more accurately predict meat tenderness in an animal. Those have been incorporated in the new TenderGene test. Meat shear force research says that the new test could be 20% better than previously, says DeHaan.

He also says that Igenity is getting more and more interest in the parent match test from commercial cattlemen. Many larger cow herds use multiple bulls in a pasture, and sometimes a producer wants to know exactly which bull sired which calf. ParentMatch will give that information, which could be valuable when choosing replacement animals.

"It could let a producer do within-herd EPDs (expected progeny differences)," says DeHaan. "You can follow the calves of each individual sire all the way through the production chain, and know which bulls are getting the job done."

It's even proving which bulls are actually siring calves in a multiple sire situation. "We've seen cases of 3 or 4 bulls running together with a group of cows, and when we do ParentMatch, we find that one bull sired half the calves," says DeHaan. "And maybe another bull didn't sire any. That's pretty important information to know."

Igenity also announced a new program just started last year called Project Lariat. They have enrolled 25 ranches, with about 50,000 total cows, in a long-range project that will sample and genotype every animal for multiple markers. The goal is to confirm the value of gene marker-assisted selection and management.

"We'll get a better understanding of our tests and how to use them as this program unfolds," says DeHaan. "These ranches that are working with us are going to learn a lot about their herds."

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