GIFT - Genomic Improvement of Fertilization Traits in Danish and Brazilian Cattle – University of Copenhagen

The GIFT project is a large strategic research collaboration initiative between Denmark and Brazil, headed by Professor Haja Kadarmideen in Denmark and Dr. Marcelo Fábio Gouveia Nogueira in Brazil.

Reproductive technologies are important tools in cattle breeding, with artificial insemination (AI) being used for more than 50 years and embryo transfer (ET) used since the mid-1970’s. More recently, ET of in vitro produced (IVP) embryos derived from ultrasound-guided collection of oocytes (Ovum Pick-Up, OPU) from superior donor cows has been introduced. This technique is being used increasingly worldwide, but there is a need for improved understanding of the biology as well as the associated quantitative genetics in order to exploit the full benefits. The aims of the GIFT project are to form a bridge between embryo technology and systems genetics/genomics. This in order to address complex biological mechanisms for OPU-IVP traits as well as heifer pregnancy rates, find key genes and genetic markers, and develop whole genomic selection programs for identification of superior donors and recipients. The GIFT partners (Brazil and Denmark) represent in collaboration a unique set of competencies which synergistically support each other. With strong basic genomics and embryological experience, extensive practical use of the techniques, access to both beef and dairy cattle of two species (Bos Taurus and Bos Indicus) as well as two environments (tropical and temperate climates). Hence, the GIFT project allows for a novel assessment of biological and genetic dimensions of the OPU-IVP technology in a contemporary and international breeding context.

In Brazil, extensive field trials based on genetic/genomic and phenotyping experiments in 1500 Nellore cattle stationed at five herds (ranches) for genome-wide association studies (GWAS) as well as deep embryological and transcriptomics studies are planned. In Denmark, extensive embryo technology validations, quantitative genetic analyses, transcriptomics and systems biology investigations on cattle fertilization traits are planned. Vitrogen® will provide access to several thousands of data records on OPU-IVP sessions along with some genomic information.

Overall, the GIFT project combines two practical embryo and genomic technologies to make a direct contribution to the quality and quantity of meat and milk produced from cattle and used for human consumption, thus contributing to global food security.

The joint Danish-Brazilian project has been granted 6.1 million Danish kroner from the Programme Commission on Health, Food and Welfare of the Danish Council for Strategic Research. As well as the equivalent of 6.0 million Danish kroner from the State of São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP) for this research collaboration which will run for 4 years from February 2013.