Ovita is working to develop tangible tailored economic propositions for different farming scenarios. Whether you are a Romney breeder selling 3000 rams a year or you are a composite breeder with a small stud and a commercial operation, the SNP chip data will have relevance to all operations.
SNP technology is based on us using more than 50,000 DNA markers for gene discovery. With the old Ovita DNA technology we would use 350 DNA markers to try to discover genes one trait at a time and then refine the region with additional markers. This made the R&D process a long drawn out process. With SNP technology, the second generation of DNA marker technology, we can search for multiple traits across thousands of DNA markers at once. This will make the gene discovery process much faster.
The sheep breeds used to obtain the draft sequence of the sheep genome were Romney, Texel, Poll Dorset, Merino, Asswasi and Scottish Blackface, representing a wide range of sheep genetics from across the globe. This sequence information was used to identify SNPs-which were then used to create a SNP chip. For the New Zealand sheep breeds (including composites) what matters now are the available phenotype resources for validating the chip in the New Zealand industry flocks. The relevance of the SNP chip to the NZ industry will depend on what industry resources Ovita can obtain to validate the chip with. Ovita has spent the last few years gathering phenotype data and resources in preparation for this technology. We are trying to gather enough industry breed samples to validate the chip for every trait we are investigating. Currently, for some traits we have a lot of different breed samples, for other traits we need to collect more. The first SNP chip products are due for release in mid-2010.
Unfortunately it is not often one gene that is responsible for a specific trait. Many traits that we observe are the combined effect of many genes, for example, Facial Eczema. The benefit of the SNP chip is that we can explain a greater proportion of the variation than previous methods.
You are already making good selection decisions-the NZ sheep genetic improvement rates are on the rise (AbacusBio, The Value of Genetic Improvement to the NZ Sheep Industry, July 2008). SNP chip technology is powerful tool in the tool box. It allows you to make informed selection decisions. A large benefit of this technology is also the time/labour/feed costs saved in making early selection decisions.
Often the genetic effect may only be responsible for 20-30% of the observed effect. There are many other factors that contribute to the effect, like environment (climate, feed, topography etc). But with access to genetic selection tools being able to influence that 30% makes a big difference to your genetic gain.
What you might see may not be MyoMAX. You may not see the effect if environmental factors limit the MyoMAX effect in animals. When drafting decisions need to be made in younger animals it is the time (and resources) saved in knowing for sure that matter - many breeders may not want to wait to know an animal's phenotype. Given the uncertainty in guessing a MyoMAX single copy, no copy or double copy - would you trust someone who will sell you an animal that has not been tested (or descended from a parent that has been tested)?