Genomics: What’s a SNP?

Genomics — it’s one of the most cutting-edge fields in science at the moment. In just the past few years, important species genomes have been unraveled, or sequenced. Wheat, reindeer and barley are just some of the most recent ones.

Beyond sequencing the genomes of new species, scientists also unravel the genomes of individual animals in order to better understand their genetic traits. When they do that, they’re looking specifically at SNPs.

SNPs, pronounced “snips,” stands for single nucleotide polymorphisms. They are slight variations in an individual’s genome that differ from the already sequenced reference genome. To be considered a SNP, a variation must occur in more than 1% of the population, making them more significant than your run-of-the-mill mutation. To use humans as an example, we have about 10 million SNPs in our genome.

The variations are responsible for the biological differences between individuals of the same species. Sometimes they’re responsible for physical differences, but more often they affect traits like susceptibility to disease. In animal production contexts, looking at SNPs can offer valuable information about, say, milk production, birthing ease or whether the offspring will have horns or not. All of this info can be used to help select which animals to breed, continuing to enhance the herd, and which ones don’t have as many traits worth passing on.

In genomic testing, scientists look at the genome of an individual animal, or the entirety of its DNA. They look for SNPs that represent specific traits, like high fertility, efficient feed conversion or ability to adapt to different climates. They do this with a blood or tissue sample and generate a report that outlines how the animal’s SNPs compare to other animals within the same breed or species.

Genomics is a continually growing field, and as more reference genomes are established, more discoveries will become possible. As feeding our growing population efficiently becomes more and more important, animal protein producers will likely expand their use of genomics to make their herds better and better.

Neogen offers genomics services worldwide that deliver innovative, affordable DNA testing for the discovery and commercial application of genomic advances that enhance the safety and abundance of life. See our website for more information.

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