Bigs Project Benefits Beef Producers

Beef cattle breeders use pedigree and performance records to select animals with desirable production traits. Iowa State researchers are taking the selection process a step further with online software that speeds genetic selection.

“This project is important to the nation’s beef industry because it provides the means to exploit genomics to improve successive crops of sires,” says Dorian Garrick, Jay Lush Endowed Chair in Animal Breeding and Genetics.

Garrick leads the BIGS Project — an acronym for Bioinformatics to Implement Genetic Selection.

BIGS has been developed for statistical analysis of genomic data. It is funded by a three-year, $900,000 grant

“This software is being continuously updated and improved to handle more complex circumstances,” Garrick says. Rohan Fernando, animal science professor, works with Garrick on this part of the project.

BIGS has a web-based interface to the software, which allows users secure access to upload and remotely run analyses. A collaborator at California Polytechnic State University manages development of the interface.

Research is now determining the arrangement of genomic information on each chromosome of every genotyped animal, so recombination points can be traced across generations, improving predictive ability. Collaborators at the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center (USMARC) are assisting with this.
So far, the new software has been used to analyze information from USMARC, and by collaborators in New Mexico, Canada and Australia.

Two commercial companies now offer genomic-based products and services that resulted from use of the BIGS software, and the American Angus Association has modified its national cattle evaluation system to include information from genomic tests.