Friday, December 18, 2015

Now HIRING! Looking for passionate graduate students and post doctoral fellows

My group is currently recruiting people to fill two graduate student positions. We will also be recruiting a researcher to fill a postdoctoral position in the coming year.

We are looking for candidates who are passionate about genetics, genomics, and research. Ideal candidates are creative, hard working (while maintaining a work/life balance), and self starters. Our group is strictly computational, so candidates should enjoy working on computers and analyzing data. Candidates should be willing to learn programming (typically in R or Python), or already have some programming experience.

We will soon have access to over 200,000 genotyped beef cattle with phenotypes and breeding values. We also have access to whole genome sequencing data from over 2,000 cattle. So, if you like working with lots of data, come join us! Our group uses population genomics to better understand the  history of cattle breeds and to inform future selection decisions. We are interested in local genetic adaption, fertility, inbreeding, and, of course, genomic prediction. With our collaborators, we also enjoy projects looking at the evolution of quail, dogs, and catfish.

Interested candidates are encouraged to apply to the Division of Animal Sciences, the Genetics Area Program, or the Informatics Institute. The deadline to apply to the Division of Animal Sciences and be considered for all fellowships if February 1st. The deadline to apply to the Genetics Area Program is January 15th. Deadline for the Informatics Institute is March 1st.

As a graduate mentor, my focus is helping you achieve your career goals. I have an open door policy and routinely touch base with my students. We have weekly joint lab meetings with Jerry Taylor's group. I have an annual meeting with each student to discuss career plans, 5 and 10 year plans, degree progress, professional development goals, etc. I would be happy to put you in touch with my current graduate students so they can tell you more about my mentorship style and what working in my group is like.

Please contact me if you would like more information about these positions.




The University of Missouri is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action employer. To request ADA accommodations, please contact Amber Cheek, JD our Director of ADA Education and Accessibility at 573-884-7278 (V/TTY).


Wednesday, December 9, 2015

GENOMICS: Where are we going?

Photo by Lana Eaton, Eaton Charolais, Lindsay, Mont.
Cover by Molly Schoen
The June/July issue of the Charolais Journal contained an article I wrote.

Click this link to download a copy of the article.

In the article I discuss trends I see coming in the development of genomic prediction. Please provide feedback in the anonymous survey below.


Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Pigs that are Resistant to Incurable Disease Developed at University of Missouri

Discovery about PRRS virus could save swine industry hundreds of millions of dollars; Exclusive deal signed with global leader in animal genetics

COLUMBIA, Mo. ­— Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome (PRRS) virus was first detected in the U.S. in 1987. Pigs that contract the disease have extreme difficulty reproducing, don’t gain weight and have a high mortality rate. To date, no vaccine has been effective, and the disease costs North American farmers more than $660 million annually. Now, a team of researchers from the University of Missouri, Kansas State University, and Genus plc have bred pigs that are not harmed by the disease.


Prather PRRS from MU News Bureau on Vimeo.


“Once inside the pigs, PRRS needs some help to spread; it gets that help from a protein called CD163,” said Randall Prather, distinguished professor of animal sciences in the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources. “We were able to breed a litter of pigs that do not produce this protein, and as a result, the virus doesn’t spread. When we exposed the pigs to PRRS, they did not get sick and continued to gain weight normally.”

For years, scientists have been trying to determine how the virus infected pigs and how to stop it. Previously, researchers believed that the virus entered pigs by being inhaled into the lungs, where it attached to a protein known as sialoadhesin on the surface of white blood cells in the lungs. However, two years ago Prather’s group showed that elimination of sialoadhesin had no effect on susceptibility to PRRS. A second protein, called CD163, was thought to “uncoat” the virus and allow it to infect the pigs. In their current study, Prather’s team worked to stop the pigs from producing CD163.

“We edited the gene that makes the CD163 protein so the pigs could no longer produce it,” said Kristin Whitworth, co-author on the study and a research scientist in MU’s Division of Animal Sciences. “We then infected these pigs and control pigs; the pigs without CD163 never got sick. This discovery could have enormous implications for pig producers and the food industry throughout the world.”

While the pigs that didn’t produce CD163 didn’t get sick, scientists also observed no other changes in their development compared to pigs that produce the protein.

The early-stage results of this research are promising. The University of Missouri has signed an exclusive global licensing deal for potential future commercialization of virus resistant pigs with the Genus, plc. If the development stage is successful, the commercial partner will seek any necessary approvals and registration from governments before a wider market release.

“The demonstration of genetic resistance to the PRRS virus by gene editing is a potential game changer for the pork industry,” said Jonathan Lightner, Chief Scientific Officer and Head of R&D of Genus plc. “There are several critical challenges ahead as we develop and commercialize this technology; however, the promise is clear, and Genus is committed to developing its potential. Genus is dedicated to the responsible exploration of new innovations that benefit the well-being of animals, farmers, and ultimately consumers.”

“At the end of our study, we had been able to make pigs that are resistant to an incurable, untreatable disease,” said Kevin Wells, co-author of the study and assistant professor of animal sciences at MU. “This discovery could save the swine industry hundreds of millions of dollars every year. It also could have an impact on how we address other substantial diseases in other species.”

In addition to Whitworth and Wells, Prather’s research team included collaborators at Genus plc, and Kansas State University. The study, “Gene-edited pigs are protected from porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome virus,” is being published in Nature Biotechnology this month.

Genus plc, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and University of Missouri’s Food for the 21stCentury Program provided funds for the research.

Friday, December 4, 2015

North American Limousin Foundation Releases Recalibrated GE-EPDs

By Joe Epperly, NALF assistant executive director

Limousin breeders and their commercial customers benefit greatly from new breeding and selection tools. The North American Limousin Foundation (NALF) has launched genomic-enhanced EPDs (GE-EPDs) with the fall 2015 international cattle evaluation. This provides GE-EPDs for all Limousin and Lim-Flex® animals that have completed DNA testing for genomic profiles.

A recalibration in cooperation with GeneSeek® and the Canadian Limousin Association has supplied genomic profiles on more than 4,500 Limousin and Lim-Flex animals. Molecular breeding values from either a high- or low-density genomic profile test are then blended into EPD calculations to produce GE-EPDs. This recalibration has led to the doubling of the number of animals included, the number of traits enhanced, and the genetic correlations.

The advantage to animals with GE-EPDs is increasing EPD accuracy values on many traits equivalent to having 8-20 progeny. This adds greatly to the predictability in selection for genetic merit of young, unproven seedstock. Animals that are genomic-enhanced will have the NALF GE-EPDs displayed on their animal detail screen and performance reports in the NALF-DigitalBeef platform. Traits that are genomic-enhanced are highlighted in yellow on these reports.

"We are excited to offer cutting edge tools for the selection of superior genetics to members and commercial producers purchasing Limousin and Lim-Flex animals. NALF has options for DNA testing that fit both your budget and needs for various traits," says Brittany Barrick, NALF director of registry and performance.

For questions regarding DNA testing options and procedures, contact Brittany Barrack, NALF director of registry and performance at 303-220-1693, ext. 57 or Brittany@NALF.org.