DNA research key for Irish agriculture
This latter aspect is particularly interesting as it opens the way to diagnosing sick animals before they even display symptoms or experience discomfort.
This will allow for more effective treatment and potentially reduce the amount of medicines used to treat them. “In the longer term, we will also be looking at the pathways for diseases in the animals and this could possibly assist in the development of new therapies.”
Much of this work would not be possible without the assistance of computational and systems biology. “The genome is so large we need scientists who understand both biology and computers to work with us on it. Molecular biology is really about the DNA telling the cell how to make RNA and the RNA then controlling the manufacture of the proteins which run the whole machinery of the cell. We need a lot of storage capacity and processing power to deal with all of this data.”
Of particular interest to many farmers will be the centre’s work on feed efficiency and the related area of product quality. The research aims to understand the mechanisms underpinning the efficient conversion of nutrients to quality animal products using a variety of animal models including animals selected for enhanced efficiency and management models of efficiency.
Data from this work will contribute to the identification of potential molecular biomarkers for the genetic selection of cattle with greater feed efficiency and provide insight into opportunities and consequences of modification of future production systems. Researchers are also applying a suite of molecular technologies including metagenomics to characterise and gain a greater understanding of the rumen microbiome and its role in the efficiency of nutrient utilisation and methane production.
Dewhurst explains that pigs and poultry are more efficient at gaining weight than cattle or sheep and this will be one aspect of the research pursued in this area. “We are looking at this and seeing if there is an impact on product quality as a result of increased efficiency. If there is a trade off between quality and productivity a better understanding of it will enable us to make the right choices and select the traits we are looking for.”
Teagasc’s Animal Bioscience facility, Grange, Co Meath