Livestock Gentec Conference: Summary
The theme of this year’s Livestock Gentec Conference was One Genome, One Health: Our Animals, the Environment and Us. The two-day conference provided an overview of the investigation and application of genomics across many disciplines. Participants also explored the challenges, benefits and opportunities at the intersection of Alberta’s food production and human health. Talks ranged from separating agricultural myth from fact, animal health, and building partnerships to evidence-based outcomes in the beef Industry, the rancher’s perspective, and students showcasing their research.
Steven Jones of the Michael Smith Genome Sciences Centre spoke about personalized medicine in human cancer treatment. In a true flash of cross-sectorial insight, he suggested that, in genomics, research done in one area can inform research done in another to the betterment of both.
The two panel discussions elicited plenty of questions and feedback. The first traced the path from discovery through commercialization, distribution and application as Alberta Agriculture and Forestry’s John Basarab together with Delta Genomics CEO Michelle Miller, and Shannon Argent, Manager of Olds College’s Technology Access Centre and Doug Wray (rancher) discussed the processes involved at each step in moving EnVigour HXTM from lab to pasture. They also discussed lab logistics, and the new EnVigour HXTM distribution agreement between the Technology Access Centre and Delta Genomics. The goal of the agreement is to give producers easy access to EnVigour HXTM and valuable educational experiences for students involved in agricultural training at the college. As the person responsible for the development of EnVigour HXTM, John outlined the value to the cow/calf sector of verifying parentage, determining genomic breed composition, and assigning a Vigour score to each animal in a herd. He illustrated an increase of approximately $81,000 per 100 cows over five calving periods when comparing a high-vigour herd vs. a low-vigour herd. Rancher Doug Wray spoke about some of the practical considerations involved in implementing new technologies into a cow/calf operation and ways to maximize the benefits given the practicalities of running a ranch.
The second panel featured Alta Genetics Inc.’s David Chalack, Alberta Innovates’ Rollie Dykstra, Acceligen’s Tad Sonstegard and Cattleland Feedyards’ William Torres with moderator Stephen Morgan Jones from Amaethon Agricultural Solutions to talk about moving ideas through to innovation in the province. Key takeaways were the benefit and need for additional resources dedicated to the knowledge translation and commercialization of products like EnVigour HXTM. Discussion also indicated that more support is required for entrepreneurs, and communication between stakeholders needs to improve.
At the poster session, one student in particular, Sasha Van der Klein, originally from the Netherlands, was keen to highlight Alberta’s impact on the global research community.
“I was attracted to Alberta because of the research of the UofA’s Martin Zuidhof. It was very inspiring,” she said. “The conference gave me the chance to tell people about that.”
Similar stories were heard from the poster winners, such as Jiehan Lim and Mohammed Abo-Ismail originally from Malaysia and Egypt respectively. They were pulled to Alberta because of the reputation for excellence in the application of genomics in livestock.
“This year’s Livestock Gentec Conference once again showcased how Alberta is a leader in developing genomic solutions for Canada’s livestock producers but also in ensuring that every effort is made to assist producers in adopting these technologies into their production systems,” said Dr. Cornelia Kreplin, Alberta Innovates Executive Director of Sustainable Production/Food Innovation. “The lineup of speakers not only clearly illustrated how to use tools like EnVigour HXTM to improve the performance of their herds, but engaged participants to dig deeper in identifying ways we can continue to move forward in improving our province’s vibrant livestock industry.”
Livestock Gentec CEO Graham Plastow couldn’t resist the play on words pun when he described the conference as a "heterosis of ideas in action”… the coming together of ideas to improve outcomes.
“One of the most exciting things in research is when you hear from someone investigating something completely different, and you suddenly see a way to overcome a barrier in your own work. I saw several light bulbs come on at this year’s conference,” he said.