Roslin to Rodica: Strengthening research links in animal breeding and genomics

Photo credit: pixabay, kimspirationalslove, CC0

In this post, Dr Gregor Gorjanc, a Chancellor’s Fellow in Data Driven Innovation for AgriTech at The Roslin Institute, describes his recent Go Abroad Staff experience in teaching animal breeding and genomics at the Animal Science Department (Rodica) of the Biotechnical Faculty, University of Ljubljana, Slovenia…

During the last five years at The Roslin Institute, I have frequently thought about strengthening research links with my Alma Mater, the University of Ljubljana (Slovenia). The Go Abroad Staff Teaching programme enabled this through a week-long mobility at the Animal Science Department (Rodica), which is few kilometres outside of Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia. The objective of the mobility was to strengthen links via teaching, discussing research projects and reciprocal visits.

Rodica Campus

I taught a short course on “The next-generation animal breeding” to MSc and PhD students and interested staff; 16 participants in total. We covered the state-of-the-art in design and optimisation of breeding programmes, genomic data, haplotyping and imputation of genomic data, evaluation of genetic merit with phenotypic, pedigree and genomic data, optimal contribution selection and the potential of genome editing and gene drives for breeding. The course involved lectures and computer-based practicals.

Gregor teaching at Rodica

Some of the above topics get quite technical and, to clearly explain, them I used two real-life examples. First, we used body height within my family to infer genetic values based on my own phenotype and phenotypes of my relatives. The example where I showed calculations for pedigree prediction of my daughter’s body height was very well received. It clearly showed applicative value of the presented techniques. Second, I used my own 23andMe genotype and associated results for ancestry and genomic predictions. I have further complemented these with additional genomic predictions from the DNA.Land website. The website provides predictions for being a morning or evening person, cups of coffee consumption, years in education, general intelligence, neuroticism, probability of having brown eyes, body height, near-sightedness, etc. While such predictions are still imperfect, their accuracy is improving with the increasing datasets and they are bound to stay. We had a very extensive debate about the accuracy and value of such predictions both in agriculture and medicine.

Each day after the course I spent with course participants and other staff at the department. We have discussed their research and potential for collaboration going forward. We have identified four themes where our research aims overlap. We will share expertise and challenges in these areas to further our research. Some of the students expressed a desire to visit Roslin and pursue part of their research in close collaboration with me.

Gregor Gorjanc

Dr Gregor Gorjanc is a Chancellor’s Fellow in Data Driven Innovation for AgriTech at The Roslin Institute. He uses genomics and breeding to manage and improve populations used for production of food, feed and fibre. He achieves this through: (i) applied breeding, (ii) design and optimisation of breeding programs, (iii) methods for population and quantitative genetics and breeding and (iv) analysis of complex traits to unravel their biological basis and to inform new ways of breeding. He received engineering diploma in animal science and PhD in genetics from the University of Ljubljana. The Go Abroad Staff Teaching programme enabled him to disseminate his UK based research at his Alma Mater.

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