What is genomics, exactly?

Genomics is the field of science that studies an organism’s entire genome (DNA sequence). Genomics analyzes the relationship between genetics and traits, and uses the data to answer scientific questions and solve practical problems.

How does genomics work?

An organism (let’s use a calf as an example) inherits its DNA and genes from both parents. The calf’s genes and its environment determine its traits. The genes set the limits, and the environment influences how the calf develops within those limits. So if the sire and dam are small, the calf will probably end up small, too. But if it receives lots of good quality food, it can grow to the upper limit set by its genetic heritage. (This logic applies to most traits, although some, such as eye colour, are not influenced by environment.) Most traits are governed by many genes. This is where genomics comes in. Using a few drops of our calf’s blood or the root of a tail hair, laboratory analysis can examine its genetic make-up and test for thousands of SNPs (pronounced “snip”). A SNP is one of the smallest possible differences in the DNA between two organisms. Computer software can then match the pattern of the calf’s SNPs with specific traits. So, we can tell how fast the calf has the potential to grow, for example, or how resistant he might be to disease. Many traits are already linked to patterns of SNPs on the genome. Genomics research is extending the list even further for cattle, pigs and other species.

What are the benefits of genomics?

From conception to consumption, genomics has begun to influence all stages of livestock production. The potential has already been demonstrated in the dairy industry, which currently benefits from increased profitability, higher yield and better health in its animals.

What are benefits for livestock producers?

  • Bottom line – Reduced costs from efficient breeding and management
    • 9-10% lower herd maintenance
    • 20-40% estimated financial gain from using genomics technologies in beef cattle
    • Improved breeding performance
    • Improve traits that are lowly heritable or difficult to measure
    • Faster genetic improvement. Even with the best conventional breeding and reproduction technologies, it still takes five years to produce a new bull calf, rear it to sexual maturity and progeny-test its offspring. Traits such as tenderness and marbling can only be assessed after the animal is slaughtered, so it is no longer available for breeding. Using genomics tools could compress the entire cycle into just a few weeks, and have the first superior new calves born in little more than a year.
    • Improved animal health. A new understanding of hostpathogen interactions based on genomics research offers the promise of improved vaccines and disease immunity, new gene-based targets for treatment, better response times to new threats and the potential to breed healthier animals.
    • Selection for animals that are naturally calm and produce less appetite-reducing hormones will result in faster weight gains and fewer aggression-related problems
    • Feed efficiency. A genetic test would more than pays for itself by producing animals that grow faster on less feed (10-12% less feed intake).
  • Competitiveness. The American livestock industry is already using genomics-based technologies.

What are the benefits down the value chain?

  • Safe, healthy meat. Breeding for animals that better respond to vaccination, carry a lower burden of animal-to-human organisms and need fewer antibiotics improves food safety throughout the food chain.
  • Improved traceability. Genomic information and infrastructure can advance biosafety programs through DNA verified traceability, allowing rapid identification of disease outbreaks or contamination in the food chain.

What are the benefits for Canadians

  • Positive environmental impact, for example:
    • 25-30% lower methane emissions.
    • 15-17% lower manure nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium production.
  • New high quality and healthy consumer foods and value added products
  • Advanced knowledge and access to well-paying jobs.
  • Financial benefits
  • Better animal welfare. An increased demand for higher animal welfare standards places pressure on export countries like Canada. Genomics provides opportunities for enhancing animal welfare, for example by reducing or eliminating traits and behaviour, such as aggressiveness, that lead to preventable animal suffering.

Meet The Canadian Cattle Genome Project Stakeholders


Paul Stothard
Project Leader
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Steve Miller
Project Leader
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Steve Moore
Project Leader
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Mary De Pauw
Project Manager
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