Genomic technology can make a difference for farmers around the world

Genomics, including livestock DNA testing, has revolutionized much of the agricultural world, and its impact only continues to grow as the technology improves. And as the science advances, it continues to enter new markets and regions that can benefit from it.

For farmers in developing countries, whose herds are smaller and less productive than typical operations in other countries, genetic and genomic technology could mitigate the damage caused by animal disease and bring greater economic prosperity.

In a recent interview with the magazine Science, biologist Appolinaire Djikeng discussed the ways gene-editing and genomics technologies could help farmers in developing countries. Djikeng is the head of The Centre for Tropical Livestock Genetics and Health, dually based in Edinburgh, Scotland and Nairobi, Kenya.

“Our work is focusing on looking at improving livestock productivity and focusing on a number of traits,” he told Science. “That trait could be fast growth, it could be resistance to disease, it could be productivity, like milk production, egg production and the quality of the meat.”

Djikeng highlights the difficulties faced by farmers in places like sub-Saharan Africa, where on average dairy cattle produce five times less milk than those in more developed nations. A lack of resources for an advanced breeding network makes it hard to breed herds that produce at higher levels, and importing livestock isn’t a solution because the climate of developing nations tends to differ from more economically advanced areas.

Genomics, he explains, could play a role in quickly developing more advanced breeding programs. Genomics is the study of the entire DNA of an organism. With a genomic report produced by laboratories that work with farmers, a farmer can analyze their animals’ traits including susceptibility to disease, ability to produce milk, meat quality, etc. In the hands of farmers in developing nations, the technology could enrich the entire community.

“If we have an animal that is very suitable for breeding, we can do a genetic profile for that animal to be easily identifiable,” Djikeng said. “Let’s say you have a sire that farmers agree is the best sire. You can quickly multiply using artificial insemination for most farmers to have the same animal in the community.”

As this technology continues its expansion, it promises to not only provide more nutritious food to support small-agriculture communities, but also to bolster the economies of their towns and countries.

For more information on genomics and its many applications, from animal agriculture to food safety, check out our primer on the topic.

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