June 23, 2019

USDA releases 10-year plan for animal genomics research

USDA releases 10-year plan for animal genomics research

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has published their blueprint for research and funding in animal genomics for 2018–2027. The document, a collaboration between USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS), the National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA), and Iowa State University was published May 16 in Frontiers & Genetics.

The blueprint, titled “Genome to Phenome: Improving Animal Health, Production, and Well-Being – A New USDA Blueprint for Animal Genome Research 2018–2027,” addresses what needs to happen on the federal level to support animal genomics research and application as producers work to feed the rapidly growing world population.

The blueprint builds on the previous 2008–2017 plan, which met many of its goals.

"With the new plan, we are able to show the return on investment in the previous decade," said ARS National Program Leader Caird Rexroad in a press release. "We also identify knowledge gaps and account for dramatic new changes in technologies when it comes to obtaining genome and DNA sequence information."

The new blueprint was based on input from animal genomics experts who convened at a workshop in November 2017. Experts on the publication broke future initiatives into three categories:

  • Science to Practice: Efforts in this area will further support efficient genome-enabled selection of livestock. Breeding dairy cattle is a past success in the area, and example of the impact of genetic selection programs. The USDA would like to further develop species-specific genome tools and resources, expand traceability applications, expand current genome-enabled technologies to additional species, collect new and more extensive phenotypes, identify causal alleles, and implement precision breeding and management.


  • Discovery Science: The goal in this area is to accelerate genetic improvement through the incorporation of molecular phenotypes. USDA plans to accomplish this by further cataloging gene expression, linking genes to function, discovering and exploiting epigenetic factors, standardizing frameworks for functional genomics data, and establishing high-quality, functionally annotated genome reference sequences.


  • Infrastructure: This initiative will bring together the equipment, bioinformatics, cyberstructure, genetic resources, and training to make the first two categories possible. The paper authors note that tools like software algorithms have vastly improved since the earlier blueprint was written, and scientists and producers need access to these tools. They also emphasize the need to start training researchers in these tools at the undergraduate and graduate level—and to encourage students in the computer sciences to pursue careers in the agriculture sector.
The authors conclude: “The United States enjoys a strong heritage as an agricultural nation whose farmers continue to provide consumers with a consistently nutritious, safe, and abundant food supply. Because the Nation values technology and innovation, the animal genomics comm