Genomics for the advancement of livestock production: A South African perspective
Most of the growth of human populations worldwide will be in developing countries, including South Africa. Natural resources are under immense pressure and animal scientists are faced with the challenges for increased efficiency and long-term sustainability of livestock production. Since the completion of the Human Genome Project, animal genomes have been mapped with genomics, enabling new opportunities for application in farm animal species. The use of microsatellite markers has made significant contributions to the insight in genetic characterisation of indigenous and local developed breeds in most farm species in South Africa and Africa. The single nucleotide polymorphic (SNP) marker discovery and development of commercial SNP arrays made genomic selection possible and genomic enhanced breeding values (GEBVs) are used widely in the First World. In South Africa, genomic programmes for beef and dairy cattle were established in 2015 and 2016, with the focus on building training populations for genomic selection. The SA Bonsmara breed was the first to receive GEBV. The availability of hard-to-measure phenotypes is limited, and these are the traits that hold the most potential for genomic selection and answering to the challenges of methane (CH4) emissions and higher efficiency. Genome editing, which involves zinc-finger nucleases (ZFNs), transcription-activators such as endonucleases (TALEN) and RNA-programmable genome editor (CRISPR/CAS9), includes the most recent technology for application in precision genetics. Welfare and ethical concerns will be an important consideration in the acceptability of genome editing to consumers. Applications that benefit the animals are more acceptable to the public. The use of genome editing to produce polled cattle is one of the first applications with a direct welfare impact as it nullifies the need for painful dehorning. In this paper, genomic technology is reviewed with the focus on the most recent research trends and commercial application of genomics towards the genetic improvement of livestock with specific reference to South Africa.
Keywords: Genetic diversity, genomic selection, gene editing, microsatellite markers, SNP