National Milk Records (NMR) opened its new custom-built genomic testing laboratory in the West Midlands in April 2021, and it has now completed the first 1,000 tests on tissue samples from UK dairy cattle.
The company invested an initial £400,000 in the state-of-the-art genotyping facility, which includes robotic sampling equipment. The capacity of this laboratory can be increased as this new technology becomes more mainstream in the dairy industry, for DNA testing of tissue and other materials such as milk.
NMR’s GeneEze laboratory currently offers genomic tests for purebred commercial and pedigree herds, of all AHDB compliant breeds, which are recorded through NMR. A pilot project on behalf of a major milk retailer is also being carried out in the laboratory.
“Genomic testing is a four-day laboratory process,” says Ashu Bassan, who heads up the operation for NMR. A forensic scientist by training and with food quality testing experience, she and her team of technicians manage the process of DNA extraction and testing.
Tissue samples from UK dairy cattle arrive at the laboratory, clearly identified with a QR barcode. The genetic information is extracted in the step-by-step laboratory procedure and leads to an iScan report, produced from bead chip readings for 55,000 DNA markers per sample. The report, and a summary, are sent to AHDB for evaluation and are turned into practical management data to support farmers and advisers.
“The new lab offers a convenient and cost-effective genomic testing service for those who want to use the technology to improve the genetic progress in their herds,” says NMR’s genomic manager Richard Miller. “And users of the GeneEze genomic service can also use our ID genotype tags for taking tissue samples, to make the process easy and simple.
“In fact, the name ‘GeneEze’ is designed to reflect the simplicity of the genomic testing service, from order to result. The genomic test results can be automatically integrated with the cow’s NMR recording information via Herd Companion, so farmers and their advisers can see all the information on one place and through one system.”
Genomic tests are proven as a more accurate prediction of an animal’s genetic potential, compared to using parent average and ancestral data, which is particularly valuable in younger animals. “It allows farmers to identify, rear and breed from heifers and cows in their herd that will best meet their goals,” adds Mr Miller.
Costs depend on the number of tests that a herd commits to but, even for the smallest volumes, the basic genomic test via GeneEze will be under £25.
Alongside this test, NMR also markets CLARIFIDE and CLARIFIDE Plus on behalf of Zoetis, which offers additional health and wellness data. This means that NMR can offer its customers across the UK a simple route into genomics testing alongside a wider range of genomic testing and support services.
A simplified account of genomic testing
Once the tissue samples, which are taken on farm and placed in clearly bar-coded vials, arrive at the laboratory they start a four-day process.
- Day 1 – DNA is extracted from tissue samples and plated out into a PCR plate
- Day 2 – DNA is amplified then pipetted into deeper wells on a plate so reagents can be added. Genomic DNA is incubated for between 20 and 24 hours
- Day 3 – DNA is fragmented, centrifuged and incubated several times before the hybridised DNA is put onto bead chips
Bead chips containing the DNA samples are then placed into a hybridisation chamber and incubated for between 16 and 24 hours.
- Day 4 – After washing, staining and drying, the bead chips are read on an iScan
Two reports are produced – one with 55,000 DNA markers and the other is a summary report.