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Hendrix points to increased data collection as driver for genetics space

Next month, Abe Huisman – director of R&D for Hendrix Genetics' swine division – will be speaking at the Animal AgTech Innovation Summit in San Francisco. Animal Pharm editor Joseph Harvey caught up with him before the conference for his company's take on the trends in the animal genetics space.

Joseph Harvey: Can you describe how Hendrix Genetics is able to improve animal health through genetics?

Abe Huisman: What Hendrix Genetics is doing through genetics is based on the combination of phenotypes and pedigree/genotypes. Phenotypes are recorded on a large number of animals for a variety of traits. A subset of those traits deals with health and survivability.

By recording survivability in a large group of (sentinel) animals and combining those recordings with their respective genotypes, it is possible to use this information in non-challenged individuals to select those animals or families that show an increased survivability in their genes for future generations of breeding individuals.

JH: Why is animal genetics seemingly a hot investment area now?

AH: With the enormous increase in wealth and the number of mouths that need feeding, the appetite for animal protein is on the rise. At the same time, there is are lot of technological developments happening that make it possible for the animal genetics industry to measure more and more precise – opening up possibilities to measure new and existing phenotypes on a large to very large scale. This will all lead to more accurate phenotypes and this in turn will lead to more genetic progress.

On top of new measuring technologies, there are also developments in genetic technologies – gene editing being one of them. These new technologies can have a meaningful contribution to the development of more animal friendly, more sustainable animal protein.

JH: The plant genetics industry has grown healthily in the past. Can we expect the animal genetics sector to do exactly the same?

AH: Exactly the same is difficult to say. I think we can safely assume the animal genetics sector will grow in the coming decades, since global demand for animal protein is increasing.

If we – the animal genetics sector – continue to improve on survivability, efficiency and quality of animal protein, there will be a market in the years ahead. If we look back at what genetics has brought us over the past decades, then there is a clear advantage of genetics. Performance has more than doubled as a result of genetic improvement. Genetic improvement is cumulative and we build further on progress made in the past.

JH: Is there any one particular species where Hendrix thinks genetic solutions are more advanced? And why?

AH: One of the beauties of being a multi-species breeding company is the synergy between them. Because genetic technologies are pretty universal, they can be transferred from one species to another species. Each species has is its own biology, making it different.

Besides differences in biology there are also differences in the speed of implementation of new technology. However, within Hendrix, I would not call a particular species more advanced.

JH: Does the company have any specific goals for 2019?

AH: Specific goals for 2019 are to grow even better in what we do and to grow and maintain our position in the global animal protein market. This is something we want to achieve through balanced breeding for more independent and self-sufficient animals.

JH: And how about in five years' time? Could you paint a picture of what animal breeding could be like as technologies develop even further?

AH: Five years from now, we will be able to utilize more and more data from the value chain in our breeding programs. The combination of developments in animal identification technology, genomic technology and measuring/recording technology will enable massive data collection on large numbers of animals. To use this data in the breeding program, it needs to be connected to pure-line breeding individuals, which should be more possible in five years than it is today.

Gene editing – if and only if accepted by end-consumers – could play a role in addressing issues in traits related to animal welfare; traits that are difficult to improve using conventional genetic selection methods.

Animal Pharm is a media sponsor for the Animal AgTech Innovation Summit, which will take place on March 18, 2019. 

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