Genomic testing is a process in which geneticists look at the entirety of an organism’s genetic make-up and can make calculated predictions based on gene alterations or patterns. Genomic testing can sometimes be confused with genetic testing due to its related nature and nomenclature. However, they are only related in the same way that a puzzle piece is related to the puzzle. Genetic testing (the puzzle piece) will focus on one specific gene or a couple of genes and their expression. Scientifically, genetics is described as the study of heredity or how traits are passed from one generation to the next whereas genomics is the study of the whole genome. In more layman’s terms, Genomic testing (the puzzle) looks at and describes where the puzzle pieces are, how they are interacting with each other, and what we can expect the whole picture to look like.
What is it used for?
Genetic testing is generally used more in human diagnostics than in animal health. This is for several reasons. The first, and most prominent, reason is that scientists look at specific genes in humans to determine the potential for a disease in which case preparations can be made to provide care or prevention in the future. This sort of preemptive care is not associated with animal health in the production, companion, or working sectors. Producers don’t need to know if their cattle are going to be born with genetic defects to prepare to care for that animal when it is born. Production animals are culled when they no longer provide capital for the producer either in products like meat or milk or through reproductive practices. Similar ideas are implemented for companion and working animals with the driving factor being profit or reactionary care as opposed to prevention. This isn’t to say that genetic testing isn’t used in animal health at all. Certain diseases can affect specific breeds more often and that information can be useful to veterinarians in determining how to move forward with diagnosis and treatment and offer insight into breed-associated conditions.
Genomic testing can be used for a variety of purposes that largely revolve around improving a product. Some examples include genomic testing for working dogs that can allow breeders to focus on certain traits that make them smarter, easier to train, quicker, stronger, etc. This same practice can be used in the dairy industry to increase milk production or in the swine industry to increase average daily gain. Using genomic testing in beef cattle operations allows for early prediction of genetic merit and can increase the value of young breeding stock. The list of ways that genomic testing can be used in the animal health industry is lengthy, but it is important to remember that the goal is to improve the species via breeding and producing desired offspring and products.
Where is it going?
Currently, most of the genomics testing is used just to get a baseline of where an animal is at in their potential and how animal health experts can improve productivity, temperament, and reproductive capabilities through breeding. The problem with this approach is that probability is less concrete in genetics when you are breeding for certain traits. The next step in genomics is to remove that probability through direct genome editing. Genome editing is the idea that we can directly manipulate a sequence in the genome, either by deleting or inserting new genes, to generate the exact outcome of increased productivity. While this idea can seem a bit daunting, with an ever-increasing global population, scientists need new ways to feed, clothe, and assist more people than ever before. Genomic editing may be one of the best solutions to ensuring animal health meets the needs of the world.
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