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Breakthroughs in assisted animal reproduction techniques are essential to meeting the growing demand for livestock production and reducing its environmental impact, above all in developing countries.

The Iowa State University (United States), one of the top animal science centers in the world, has chosen the University of Lleida (UdL) to organize an international conference entitled Adapting animal production to changes for a growing human population, the first of its kind in Spain. The UdL has collaborated with this American university since 1999, through professor and student exchanges at the School of Agricultural and Forestry Engineering (ETSEA).

This event, which took place from 19 to 21 May, brought together prestigious experts to discuss the importance of research in meeting the growing demand for livestock products. The conference was broken down into different areas –global commerce, biotechnology, animal health, nutrition and welfare, quality, safety and professional skills– and speakers dealt with topics like using genetic markers to improve health, the relationship between climate change and infectious diseases in animals, and applying biotechnology to livestock reproduction.

Regarding this last topic, Dr. Peter Bols, professor at the University of Antwerp (Belgium) and Royal Belgian Academy of Medicine, subgroup Veterinary Medicine, award-winner in 2005, spoke on the history of assisted reproduction techniques in bovines from its origins in artificial insemination (in the fifties) and the sex of embryos, through cloning. “Although biotechnology applied to animal reproduction has evolved significantly over the past decades, there is a gap between what is technically feasible and what is being carried out in reality”, explained Bols. “There is still much to be done in applying and optimizing existing techniques, as well as making them more readily accessible around the world”.

Trust in genomic selection

Dr. Jack Dekkers, from the Iowa State University, spoke on genomic selection, a technique that improves animal genetics and is based on the simultaneous use of large numbers genetic markers for the selection of individuals without phenotypes, “which is expected to lead to a paradigm shift in the design and implementation of livestock breeding programs”. Despite the leap forward this breakthrough in genetic selection represents, professor Dekkers believes that “to fully capitalize on the benefits provided by genomic selection, breeding programs will have to be redesigned substantially and need validation in real populations”, because, “the promises of genomic selection are primarily based on computer simulations”.

Other participants in the conference included Pierre Gerber, Livestock Policy Officer for the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and Dr. Jaume Coma, director of Nutrition at the Vall Companys Group, representing the Catalan livestock sector.

Book of lectures (published by the University of Lleida)


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