Aubrac cow. © INRA, SLAGMULDER Christian

High throughput genomics: a rapidly changing field

Towards predictive biology

These advances in genomics taken together will eventually lead to unprecedented accuracy and thoroughness in the phenotyping of animals. They will shed new light on the relationship between traits (phenotypes) and associated genotypes, and allow scientists to predict the value of an animal based on several designated criteria as early as possible. 

INRA is ramping up skills in functional genomics. © IANNUCCELLI Nathalie
INRA is ramping up skills in functional genomics. © IANNUCCELLI Nathalie

Genotype to phenotype

Today, in 2012, INRA is ramping up skills in functional genomics. We are trying to understand and explain to the best of our ability how genes that are responsible for desirable traits in livestock animals function. A key challenge will be to acquire the most accurate and complete phenotyping of animals possible, in order to have the most reliable phenotype/genotype reference possible, and to link causal genetic variations to the largest possible number of traits. Another priority will be to understand animal metabolism in its entirety through metabolomics. In all cases, the goal is to work toward predictive animal biology, to be able to predict value based on several chosen criteria as early on in the life cycle as possible ”explains Philippe Monget, Director of Agenae. This consortium has identified genes that have a major impact on traits of high economic interest. Research has led to tangible results that can be exploited by industry such as the development of new, high-quality biological markers (meat, gamete) and the identification of determining genes (syndactyly in bovines, conformation in Texel sheep). Thanks to scientific findings, we now understand what role genetics plays in fertility, susceptibility to mastitis in ruminants and infection in fish and swine. New markers and the discovery of genes will bolster in the short term genomic selection programmes.

Epigenetics and nutrigenomics

This will also lead to two new fields of study. The first is epigenetics, that is, the study of changes in the expression of a genome without genetic modification. Epigenetics looks at, for example, the impact that nutritional stress experienced by a pregnant female will have on her gestating offspring’s metabolism several years down the line. The second field of study concerns nutrigenomics, and more specifically the impact of intestinal bacteria on several biological functions such as digestion and the immune system. This discipline emerged in 2012 as a result of a decrease in sequencing costs, which enables researchers to accurately identify and quantify micro-organisms that thrive in the digestive tract. Recent research in humans show, in particular, that intestinal bacteria have a direct impact on obesity.