One woman’s search for a research home

From the Middle East to Europe and North America, Marzieh Heidaritabar talks to Gentec about the meaning behind international science.

Already, as a thirty-something, Marzieh Heidaritabar has lived in six countries as part of her studies and career. Such is the life of a scientist, these days.

“I always knew I wanted to go abroad for my advanced degrees,” she says. “The level of achievement at European and North American universities is higher than at home.”

Building on a Bachelor’s in her native country, Iran, Marzieh won a European Master of science in Animal Breeding and Genetics (EMABG) scholarship. She spent the first year at the renowned SLU (Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences in Uppsala) and the second at the Norwegian University of Life Science (NMBU) in Sá.

Wageningen University & Research (WUR) (in the Netherlands, where Marzieh completed her PhD in 2016 on genomic selection in egg-laying chickens) is my second home,” she says. “It’s a small—but highly social and connected—society of students. I was never bored.” Then, over to Aarhus University Foulum for a post-doc, where she already knew several researchers from collaborations with Wageningen.

“I was right about the European universities,” she says. “All of these are in small towns where students are the majority of the population. The facilities, computer labs and digital libraries are excellent, so are the teaching and technical support.

As a testament to the connectivity of the European science community, Marzieh didn’t have to learn any languages. With international reputations and a large international student body, almost all MSc courses are taught in English and the townsfolk are keen to practise their own language skills.”

During her PhD, she also spent several months at Iowa State University (ISU) in Ames, USA. “The ISU group is one of the best in quantitative genetics,” she says. “I learned a lot from my supervisors (Jack Dekkers is a long-time Gentec collaborator). People are hard workers and the group is so dynamic. I also met some faculty members and geneticists from other USA universities and companies.”

Then on to Canada. During Marzieh’s PhD, the Dutch company (Hendrix Genetics) that supplied her data also worked with Gentec CEO, Graham Plastow. Throw in some reminders about Gentec over the years through workshops, colleagues, some reading and fellow Iranians, and Marzieh decided to reach out.

Marzieh has been in Canada since late summer 2018. These days, she is working on swine data for the first time (data provided by Hendrix). She is exploring the potential benefits of whole-genome sequence (WGS) data to improve meat and carcass quality traits in genomic selection programs of purebred and crossbred pigs. Incorporating the biological information from WGS into genomic prediction models will lead to a better understanding of the genomic architecture underlying carcass and meat quality in swine.

Of course, there are pros and cons to moving around so much. Marzieh has learned about different research styles, communication styles, PhD content (North Americans expect PhD students to teach and take subject matter courses: not so in Europe), new cultures and lifestyles—an openness that hasn’t been available to her friends who chose to stay home.

“The disadvantage is that I always feel I’m not settled yet,” she says. “There’s a cost to physically moving your life from place to place. And there’s definitely an anxiety at the beginning about not being familiar with new towns, colleagues, culture and research. Special thanks to Dr. Plastow and other people from Gentec who welcomed me warmly so that I felt at home. I am very glad to be a member of Gentec.”

For someone who was raised to be quiet, it’s been a positive learning experience.

“I was shy,” she says. “Too shy to ask my supervisor for help. The student culture in Wageningen helped change that. You either get help or you don’t, but you have to ask! If I hadn’t left Iran, I wouldn’t be the person I am now.”

Beef and Wetlands: It’s a win-win

Beef producers and Ducks Unlimited Canada find common ground to improve sustainability

Kristine Tapley has an unusual job title for an employee of Ducks Unlimited Canada, an organization traditionally known as a fowl-hunting lobby. Based in Manitoba, she’s the Regional Agrologist, Beef Industry. The only one for the Prairie region. Her job is to support the beef sector through partnerships, by promoting research and innovative ideas to producers, and by adapting DUC’s programs to ensure better uptake.

“Our starting point is that producers own much of the remaining habitat on the Prairies. As long as they have viable operations, it will stay in grass and water to meet their needs,” she explains. “We are interested in keeping those producers going so that the Prairies support a thriving beef industry, lots of habitat for waterfowl and the ecological services it provides.”

That’s where things get sticky. Long-term average margins show that a herd of 200 head provides an annual income of $17,559. So, not sustainable. And in many cases, there’s no way to make a living on the farm other than by working off the farm. Among the biggest barriers—access to land. Kristine has first-hand experience of this. Her father and brother’s farm is landlocked. She and her husband had to move away to start their own beef operation.

Okay, so still not seeing the tangible link to ducks….

Here’s the clever part. DUC actually has a vested interest in the sustainability of the beef industry. It recognizes that forage and grasslands that stay in the hands of producers benefit both cattle and wildlife—and are critical to health of grasslands and wetlands. A report from the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef shows that the beef sector only accounts for 33 percent of land in agricultural production but provides 68 percent of the wildlife habitat. Other data on the benefits of cattle for biodiversity will be available in a few years. DUC also realizes it can have a greater impact on sustainability by supporting the beef industry than by buying land and conserving it one acre at a time. The broader perspective. There’s only one landscape. Everybody has to live on it—preferably, in harmony.

As such, DUC runs a number of resources and programs to help restore and protect Canada’s land and water, which can become an integral part of a producer’s long-term management plan. Traditionally, the best-known have been easements; legal agreements through which the landowner retains ownership and gets paid for the natural assets on the property but that limit the type and amount of development on the land. However, DUC’s Revolving Land Conservation Program adds a very interesting angle because it recognizes market forces. The organization buys property that is significant for conservation, restores the wetland, slaps a permanent conservation easement on it—then puts it back on the market at a 10-30% discount. Why? The easement deters developers, cottagers, annual croppers etc., leaving beef producers as pretty-much the only purchasers, who are then able to expand their operations. Now, isn’t that clever?

“Today, DUC’s mission is to conserve, restore and manage wetlands and associated habitats for North America’s waterfowl,” says Kristine. “When we poll our community, the biggest issue they identify is water quality. Cattle need both grass and water. If you manage both of those well, there’ no reason they can’t work together.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

As an aside, while Kristine was doing her Master’s, she went through the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association’s Young Leaders Program, which provides the industry-specific training and interest-specific mentorship that will help keep the beef industry profitable into the future. Kristine wanted to focus on sustainability. She was paired with mentor Jeffrey Fitzpatrick-Stilwell from McDonald’s.

“In 2014, McDonald’s announced it wanted to source sustainable beef—but it didn’t know what that meant yet,” she remembers. “It was a wonderful experience that formed the basis for my job today. I never thought I’d find a beef role in conservation so I’m pretty excited to be doing this.”

Food Risks and GM food

Ellen Goddard

Recently, (November 2018), the PEW Research Centre produced a report (Public Perspectives on Food Risks), which identified gender differences in public perspectives. We were curious about that aspect of our own research so we went back to a national survey[1] conducted in January 2017 and had a look. In fact, there are statistically significant differences in the public perceptions of a number of food risks in Canada that are very similar to the ones identified by the PEW Research Centre. Here are some examples of different perceived food risks by sex in Canada.

We asked consumers: “How do you rate the health risks for consumers of regular consumption of (1) foods with pesticides or other chemical residues; and (2) Genetically Modified Food? (see headers in the following charts)”


The differences in responses between males and females is statistically different in each case. This is particularly interesting given that females still do predominantly more household food shopping than males.

The PEW research showed that people who were more knowledgeable about science were less likely to oppose GM foods. That, too, was something we investigated in our 2017 national survey of 1,800 Canadians. In that survey, we asked people to self-assess their knowledge of science and technology on a scale from 1 (know very little) to 10 (know a lot). The frequency of responses at each level of the scale and the average perceived human-health risk of GM foods for each group of respondents are shown in the following figure. There is a clear negative relationship between self-assessed science and technology knowledge and perceived risk of GM foods.

Given that the second rationale for concern about GM foods often concerns unexpected environmental externalities, we also looked at self-assessed knowledge of environmental problems (again, on a 1 to 10 scale) and perceived GM-food risks by groups.

Although the trend is somewhat less clear than for knowledge of science and technology, there is clearly a negative trend for the higher self-assessed knowledge of environmental problem scores from 6 through 10. So, as with the PEW research, higher knowledge of science and of the environment (which do not appear to be perfectly correlated) suggests more acceptance of GM foods, indicating perhaps a better understanding of inherent trade-offs with higher knowledge.

A number of other studies have suggested that there might be issues of fairness in markets and sectors that influence people’s assessments of the risks of GM foods (see here and here). In our research, we assessed a number of different aspects of fairness including the fairness of producer and consumer prices. To illustrate the concept of fairness and perceptions of GM food risks to human health, below are the answers to: ‘When it comes to new technologies in agriculture, it is fair to spend my tax dollars on developing these technologies. ’ We used a scale of 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree).

Again, there is a clear downward trend in the perception of GM food risks to human health with stronger agreement that taxes should be spent on the development of these new technologies in agriculture.

Why is any of this important in the continuing debate on GM foods, particularly in the context of moving forward with new genetic technologies, such as gene editing and gene drives? First of all, some of the same arguments that discouraged the adoption of GM technologies are beginning to rise in the context of the newer genetic technologies. Second, perhaps it is becoming much clearer what the role of science education (particularly from elementary school through high school) may be in encouraging understanding of the trade-offs between acceptance of newer genetic technologies and serious global food production and climate change issues.

Interest in science and technology is likely developed at an early age and, without that interest and follow-up throughout their lives, results suggest that people are more likely to oppose the use of genetic technologies in the food space (although they likely all own and use smart phones). Food is different, and raises a host of different concerns than do some other technologies in our daily lives. As demonstrated in another of our studies, cultivating an interest in science and technology across the population may reduce the perceptions of the human-health risks of GM foods (and likely of the outcomes of other genetic technology approaches).


[1] This survey was conducted in order to better understand the public’s interests in science, technology and animal agriculture as well as willingness to purchase different meat products.


Canada: A role model for sustainable beef production

“Canada is ahead of the game when it comes to beef sustainability,” affirms Graeme Finn, a member of the Canadian delegation at the Global Conference on Sustainable Beef held in Ireland on October 9-12, 2018.

“What we’re doing here is right on track to keep the public informed. It’s good to see progress from the McDonalds’ pilot program to getting a cheque from BIX/Cargill for sustainable beef—and most of all, that other countries are looking to us for guidance. I’m pretty proud of where we are right now in the world.”

The Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (the conference host) is a global initiative that aims to improve the sustainability of the global beef value chain through leadership, science and stakeholder engagement/collaboration. It is the umbrella organization and governing body for initiatives in member countries, which includes Canada (hence our interest in this).

Caption: Canadian representatives at the conference

Of the 245 attendees, Canada had the biggest delegation: 15 people representing organizations as diverse as the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, McDonald’s, A&W, BIX, Ducks Unlimited, World Wildlife Fund Canada, and three producers (including Graeme, who also represented the Canadian Roundtable).

On Day 1, Graeme took the Dawn Meats tour. Dawn Meats is one of the largest suppliers of beef into the McDonald’s system in Europe at the company’s fossil-fuel free (!!!) plant in Waterford. In 2017, the site became the first Irish food manufacturing company to be awarded BITC Ireland’s prestigious BWR (Business Working Responsibly) mark.

“Dawn buys all its meat from Verified Sustainable operations,” says Graeme. “No common market cattle. McDonalds does the same thing in Canada, so we’re aligned with Ireland on that. Cargill and McDonalds are the prime buyers of sustainable beef here. All our own beef goes into that chain, and we get the quarterly cheque.”

The tour also stopped at John and Catherine Powers’ farm in Waterford where calves are reared and finished as beef cattle for the McDonald’s Flagship Farm Program.

“It’s all bull meat,” says Graeme. “They don’t castrate any animals so, obviously, no synthetic hormones. It must be quite boisterous on that farm when the animals are young!”

Days 2 and 3 were in a more traditional conference format. Justin Sherrard, Global Strategist Animal Protein, Rabobank RaboResearch, Food & Agribusiness delivered the keynote address, focusing on leadership and the concept that the customer is always right.

“I didn’t totally agree with that,” points out Graeme. “How can customers be right if they don’t have the correct or the full information—or if they’ve watched Cowspiracy on Netflix? It makes sense that veggie burgers are trendy in a first-world urban setting but in developing countries, the cheaper option will always be meat. As their standard of living improves, they are moving towards more animal protein.”

Graeme presented on the impact of technology on producers and their operations. He believes the BSE crisis of 2003 drove producers to know their costs and to improve their winter management and grazing management—which turned out to be the best thing for the industry as it relates to sustainability.

“We already have traceability,” he says. “South Africa doesn’t even have RFID tags. The UK and Ireland have passports that follow every animal through the system throughout its life. It’s intense! They need to get with the Canadian model.”

Other presentations focused on the environmental side of sustainability, reducing emissions through innovative feeding strategies, sustainable beef production on the Canadian prairies and genetic improvement for animals on pasture.

Michael Lee, Chair of Sustainable Livestock Systems at Rothamsted Research, delivered the capstone address focusing on how livestock fit into the environment, not just as meat but also as wool fibre, cosmetics, leather, milk, fertilizer and beasts of burden. All biodegradable. Styrofoam… not so much.

“Attending a conference like this makes us more aware of where the trends are going,” says Graeme. “It’s important to know what’s going on in the world.”

Toys for boys: Drones in agriculture

Using drones to manage cattle has piqued the interest of many ranchers over the past years as their appearance in the media and in the malls becomes more common. This has led some in the agricultural community to wonder if these toys could inject a little practical application (and fun) into their cattle operations.

This notion was reinforced to Gentec in the lead-up to and post-mortem of our recent Forage to Beef Demonstration events hosted with the Foothills Forage and Grazing Association in Southern Alberta July 10th & 11th. When canvassing producers for a (non-genomic) topic of special interest to include, drone use by far generated the most interest. As confirmation, Dr. John Church’s presentation, Use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) to Monitor Cattle, garnered many accolades for highlight-of-the-day.

John was raised with a cattle background and went on to develop a passion for drones that he combines with his day-job as Associate Professor and the BC Regional Innovation Chair in Cattle Industry Sustainability at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops BC. In his presentation, he touched on many of the applications below. At Gentec, we did a little digging to see what else we could uncover with respect to drones as they relate to livestock agriculture.

Advances in drone technology, and in particular, the move to multi-rotor design have greatly increased the ease with which the general public, as hobbyists and within a work environment, can control and manoeuvre these aerial vehicles. Improvements in battery life and payload capacity, coupled with inversely-proportionate reductions in price, have caught ranchers’ attention as to how they might use these toys… uhm, “tools” profitably.

Currently, for less than $2,500, you can buy a drone that has a flight time of up to 30 minutes (depending on wind and temperature), speed of 70 kph, range of 8 km—and the ability to record and transmit HD-quality video. With a little imagination and a modification or two, anybody in the cattle industry can now improve and manage their pastures, cattle herd and operational profitability.

The most straightforward application would be monitoring cattle without having to slog through pasture, bush, wind and snow to find them. From a hilltop or roadside, the rancher can make the drone do that miserable job instead. Armed with an infrared camera, the drone can spot animals day or night, and read ear-tags from a height of over 70 m, either visually with an optical zoom or potentially via RFID transmission.

Digital video and expanded sensor technologies are also opening the door to precision pasture and animal management. Infrared technology can “see” below the canopy to find animals in the underbrush. It also provides the potential to take an animal’s “temperature” and remotely identify sick or distressed animals. As a result, it relieves valuable staff time and sends people-power to where it is most urgently needed (precisely “pinned” GPS coordinates).

Similar technologies provide pasture mapping by flying grid-formations over pasture lands that, when combined with computer applications, stitch together topographical maps outlining water / moisture availability, forage and biomass availability and help optimize pasture health, management and rotation. These tools are also increasingly being applied in the ranching and feedlot setting, such as checking on troughs (remote 3D monitoring can check feed depth) and fence integrity; verifying animal inventories in paddock and on pasture; moving livestock, and searching for missing animals.

In fact, the time may not be too far off when ranchers will be able to find and herd cattle using a combination of drone and RFID technology; the drone will be programmed to fly a given route to find an individual animal or conduct a head-count within a defined area; monitor water, salt, and mineral visitation; and provide a status and / or variance report to the rancher.

Taken together, these abilities all aim to make life easier by increasing the timeliness, accuracy, cost effectiveness and convenience of gathering and processing information, and reducing the manpower that is often hard/impossible to find/afford in rural communities.

We finish with a couple of practical tips from the wise:
• Nav Canada regulations apply to the use of drones near populated areas, highways and commercial flight paths, including line-of-sight operational restrictions. Know the law.
• Hone your skills on an inexpensive model. From what we hear… the Force is strong… but there is a learning curve :)!

One step in understanding Canada’s iconic wood bison

There are plains bison and wood bison. Can you tell the difference?

Delta Genomics is developing a test that will tell whether bison are wood, plains or hybrid. The difference is important to conservation and production efforts.

Wood bison are part of Canada’s iconic charismatic megafauna, along with polar bears, caribou, moose and others. With only about 10,000 of them remaining (based on visual inspection of wild herds), the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada has listed the species as having Special Concern. Plains bison, on the other hand, are quite plentiful. If you can’t tell the difference in these images, you’re not alone. So how do we know which to preserve?

“The CanSeq150 project is a science gift to Canada for our country’s 150th birthday last year,” says Delta Genomics CEO, Michelle Miller. “Basically, Canada’s Genomics Enterprise is sequencing 150 new genomes of animal or plant species that have significant scientific, cultural, societal or economic impact to Canada.”

CanSeq150’s goal is for the new genomes to serve as a foundation for biological research projects throughout the country. This initiative brought the beaver genome to Canada’s 150th birthday party, and has since sequenced the Canadian predator-prey duo, the snowshoe hare and lynx in 2017. The project still has an active call out for suggested species.

“We wanted to get the wood bison sequences for a few reasons,” says Michelle. “As part of an on-going project between Delta and the Canadian Bison Association, we are working to better understand the genetics of bison.”

Back in the 1920s, 6,000 plains bison were introduced into Wood Buffalo National Park in Northern Alberta, home to some of the last free-roaming wood bison herds. Yes, the bison interbred. No, there’s no good test to determine if an animal is wood, plains or hybrid. There’s even some debate as to whether they are genetically different. This is one of the questions Delta Genomics is hoping to answer. And for that, it needs lots of bison to sequence. The CanSeq150 project arrived at the perfect time.

The Canadian Bison Association has a two-pronged, synergistic mandate: conservation and production. The project with Delta involves developing the first genomics tools for the industry, which is something it doesn’t have access to yet. Genomics will benefit bison producers and conservationists by improving our ability to differentiate between wood and plains bison. There are three issues to address/answer:

  1. SNP parentage. The only parentage test using SNPs is US-based, which means mailing in samples to the States and paying in US dollars. Many producers don’t bother.
  2. Genetic difference. Is it possible to differentiate the percentage of wood and plains bison in an individual animal?
  3. How much cattle DNA is in an individual animal. Most bison have very little but current measurement methods aren’t very accurate.

“So we’d know how many pure wood bison there really are, from the conservation point of view,” says Michelle. “And on the production side, the knowledge will help producers in the same way that beef breeders maintain parental lines of Angus, Simmental, etc. Bison breeders are the same way. So producers need to know that, as well.”

But back to our original question. At Gentec, we’re not the type to leave you dangling. Here are the answers you’re looking for.

Genomics tools for commercial cattle producers: So what?

For the commercial cattle producer, crossbreeding is one of the least expensive ways to increase productivity, largely due to the resulting increase in hybrid vigour (scientifically known as heterosis / heterozygosity). In spite of this knowledge, the past 30 years have seen a continual erosion in heterosis in the cow herd as colour and “uniformity” became one of main considerations of cattle buyers. Crossbreeding, in contrast combines superior genetics from different breeds while eliminating any inbreeding depression. The Beef Cattle Research Council article “Have You Rotated Your Breeds Lately?” provides an excellent overview of why inbreeding depression occurs and some ways in which crossbreeding pays off so well for producers.

New tools are being developed that allow producers to use DNA to quantify heterosis (via breed composition) with an accuracy of 96%. This is superior to the degree of accuracy achieved with even the most accurate pedigree records due to the phenomenon of genetic “re-shuffling” that occurs on each chromosome in every generation. For example, an accurate pedigree calculation for a 100% Simmental bull crossed with a 50% Angus / 50% Hereford cow records a calf that is 50% Simmental x 25% Angus x 25% Hereford. In fact, the true genetics of the animal as a result of this “re-shuffling” might be 50% Simmental x 15% Angus x 35% Hereford. As an aside, the genomics method of breed composition automatically captures the neighbour’s bull who thinks the “grass” is greener on the other side of the fence.

But back to hybrid vigour… It is important to calculate heterosis accurately because the benefits are proportional (the greater the heterosis, the greater the benefits), the most economically important of which impact fitness, longevity, and reproductive productivity, the magnitude of which are as follows:

Every 10% increase in Vigour increases:

Pregnancy Rate                                 +2%                       2 more pregnancies per 100 cows*

Weaning Rate                                    +3%                       3 more weaned calves per 100 cows

Lifetime Productivity                      +79lbs                   79 additional pounds of saleable

calf over 5 calvings

Days in the Herd                               +51 days

So what does this mean for the commercial producer? Two things. One: knowing the heterosis present in heifers being considered as replacements helps you select for those animals that have the greatest probability of staying in the herd the longest and producing the most pounds of beef. At an estimated cost of $2,000 to develop a replacement heifer, the longer they last, the better your bottom line!

Second: knowing the genomics breed composition of your herd allows for the selection of those bulls / breeds that will allow you to continue to optimize your mating, selection, and culling decisions, the benefit of which have been estimated at over $200 as the return on the investment of a $45 genomic test. It’s all money in the bank.


* As an example, an increase in average Vigour in a 100-cow herd from 50% to 70% would be expected to result in an additional 4 pregnancies and 6 weaned calves per year; 158 additional pounds of saleable calf / cow over 5 calvings; and an increase in the average number of days a cow stays in the herd of 101 days.

Demonstration Days are here again

2017 was a year of exciting firsts for Gentec and Delta Genomics.

In February, we launched the first genomics application for the commercial cow-calf sector discovered and commercialized within Alberta. The collaboration between the Grey Wooded Forage Association (GWFA) and Gentec as part of the Cow-Forage Gentec Tour demonstration event was our first involvement with a forage association, making the GWFA the first to deliver this information to its members. Last August’s event was one of our most highly rated demonstration events, with particular positive comments on the forage component for cow-calf producers and on the impact of Alberta Agriculture and Forestry (and Gentec collaborator) John Basarab’s presentation on genomics tools for commercial cow-calf producers.

Building on this success, Gentec and the Foothills Forage and Grazing Association (FFGA) in Southern Alberta are hosting two Forage to Beef Field-Demonstration Days in 2018: July 10 at the Waldron Ranch Grazing Cooperative (near Longview, AB), and July 11 co-located between Difficulty Ranch and at Whiskey Ridge Cattle Company (both near Didsbury, AB).

As in 2017, the overarching theme is sustainable beef production and the interaction of cows, forages and genomics in the optimal development and management of the cow-herd.

At the Waldron Ranch Grazing Cooperative on July 10, Mike Roberts, Ranch Manager, will compare plots that have never been grazed, continually grazed, and intermittently grazed. Here, presenters will discuss forage species, performance indicators, the production and environmental benefits (with yearling cattle on-site), the impacts of managing hybrid vigour within the cow herd as well as progress in developing genomic indexes for the commercial producer. There will also be a demonstration of how drones can be used in ranch management.

The second event, hosted jointly by Morrie and Debbie Goetjen (Whiskey Ridge Cattle Co.) and Sean and Holly LaBrie (Difficulty Ranch) will reflect the ecological and production techniques based on their local environmental conditions. They will showcase forage topics such as the cell, swath and bale-grazing techniques they use on-ranch, display their cow herd and discuss their beef production philosophy. The hybrid vigour and drone demonstrations from the previous day will be presented.

Both days will also see two prominent UofA Gentec collaborators presenting on the practical progress being made in forage production. Edward Bork, Director of UofA’s Rangeland Research Institute and Mattheis Chair in Rangeland Ecology and Management will use the forage plots on-hand to discuss the importance and methods of maintaining the long-term economic and environmental sustainability of rangelands at the producer level.

Barry Irving has been coaxed out of a retirement lasting approximately 21 days) will talk about how management and research on both the forage and beef side has impacted production practices over the course of his career. Barry is the former manager of UofA’s Agricultural Research Stations that includes the Mattheis and Roy Berg Kinsella Research Ranches. Each station is home to distinct forage environments and active cattle herds.

More information and registration information available at and

Local Boy Does Good…

This month’s featured video pays tribute to Gentec personality Dr. John Crowley as he advances another level in his rapidly evolving career. Some of our readers will know that as of July 1, John will be joining AbacusBio in its head office in Dunedin, New Zealand, for three months before settling into its international office in Edinburgh, Scotland.

John came to Gentec in 2011 from the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation, where he had been working as part of the genetic evaluation team.

Coming from a dairy and beef background and going on to be classically trained PhD in Quantitative Genetics, John was able to focus on the fact that the goal was always to help the science help the producer manage their operation and achieve production efficiencies. While always working as part of the Gentec / University of Alberta academic team, this drew John back to work with industry, initially as an Industry R&D Associate with Beefbooster from 2012 to 2014 (supported by Alberta Innovates), and in a similar position with the Canadian Beef Breeds Council immediately after that.

The video, filmed at Gentec’s 2018 One Genome One Health conference, provides an update on the Genome Alberta and Alberta Agriculture and Forestry project on “Development and deployment of MBVs/gEPDs for feed efficiency and carcass traits that perform in commercial beef cattle.” It shows John doing what he says he enjoys most about his roles in “helping to bridge the gaps between the academic role in discovery and innovation with that of facilitating the uptake and application of these new technologies by producers and industry … the interface of progress.”

In this presentation, John talks about the efforts to bring to the producer genomics tools and selection indexes that focus on traits of economic importance: feed efficiency and carcass traits such as carcass weight, marbling grade and lean yield.

One area where Gentec does “particularly well” (John’s words!) is in partnering with user groups who can benefit from the technology being developed. Here, that means working with Troy Drake of Cow Calf Health Management Solutions and 13 Alberta-based producers to provide genetic evaluations for commercial producers, increase the genetic merit of the cow herd by increasing the accuracy of genomics prediction tools and by delivering genomics breed composition to producers. This latter ability is demonstrating particular value as it allows commercial (crossbred) producers to optimize the value of hybrid vigour within their herd while taking advantage of breed complementarity (the fact that the different breeds have different strengths).

Valuable advances to be sure—but the science does not stop here … The next frontier involves gEPDs and selection indexes for maternal traits.

We wish John success in the next step in his career with one of Gentec’s partner organizations.