Aubrac cow. © INRA, SLAGMULDER Christian

High throughput genomics: a rapidly changing field

Genomics, a discipline that first appeared in the 1990s, came about as the result of a shift in the scope of molecular genetics, which focuses on a gene or a tiny fraction of the genome, to the study of the genome in its entirety. Bringing together know-how in animal biology, bioinformatics and applied mathematics to generate and use new data, genomics has revived scientific interest in many biology-related issues. The hope is that the discipline will shed new light on the highly complex workings of living organisms, and allow the world to use genomic selection to face the challenges of livestock breeding.

Christian Huyghe, Deputy Scientific Director at INRA and President of the Scientific Interest Group Agenae, explains: «In less than ten years, we went from a genomic selection technology that was considered ‘promising’ at best in 2001, to the market launch of semen samples from a bull that was selected thanks to this technology! INRA, like many research centres outside of France, witnessed nothing less than a revolution between 2001 and 2010.  Real breakthroughs were made not only in genome research, but also in breeding in the livestock industry. Together, this has meant tremendous progress, and we have been able to take innovative ideas and turn them into reality on the market. Very few breakthroughs in fundamental research have come to fruition so quickly. INRA’s firm commitment bears witness to its keen foresight.

At the dawn of the new millennium, genomics – as we know it today – was but a budding science: the genomes of man and mice were sequenced, but not those of livestock animals. At the time, research consisted mainly of genetic mapping in as much detail as possible, and then comparing the results with the human genome. As  technology evolved, INRA invested in genetic sequencing for cow, chicken, horse, swine, goat and trout. The development of high, then very high, throughput technology, coupled with a drive-down in costs, makes sequencing a large number of species a feasible goal,  thereby making the entire range of genetic variability known to science.

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Associated Unit(s):
UMR0085 PRC Physiology of Reproduction and Behaviour