Roslin Tech’s breeding programmes built on experiences in Chilean Patagonia
A key part of our business is our breeding programmes platform, where we use sophisticated genetic and genomic data analyses to help our clients select the right animals to improve yield and profitability. These programmes exploit cutting-edge technologies, focused on the most economically advantageous traits in traditional livestock such as pigs, and most recently in the high growth sector of insect breeding.
What many of our clients may not realise is that some of the inspiration for our breeding platform began on the windswept, cold and arid flatlands of Chilean Patagonia and has spanned generations. It all begins in a sheep farm located in Tierra del Fuego at the southern tip of South America and belonging to the grandfather of our geneticist, Dr Alfredo Lepori. Eking out a living from rearing sheep in the region was a difficult task, Alfredo remembers – the climate is similarly cool to northern Scotland, with the grass yield accommodating an average of one Corriedale sheep per hectare, when as many as 20 sheep per hectare could be stocked in the more fertile South/Central region of Chile.
When Alfredo’s father took over the farm, he decided to establish a sheep breeding nucleus with other farmers from the region. Seeing the meticulous focus on breeding animals to be more economically productive eventually prompted the young student Alfredo into entering university to study veterinary science, 2,180 kms north in the city of Valdivia, an outpost founded by the Spanish in the 1600s. True to his childhood passions, his final year thesis in the Universidad Austral de Chile focused on the evaluation of genetic parameters, this time of Hereford beef cattle.
Witnessing the tenacity of his father and his colleagues in trying to breed sheep with qualities that would improve the profitability for their farms – in this case focusing on reducing the wool’s fibre diameter so as to make it easier for spinning into clothing, and increasing the lamb’s weight for meat production – has engendered the guiding principle of Alfredo’s working life.
“I saw the struggle of my father trying to pull up whatever he could from the ground, but not being able to fully understand the science that could help him,” Alfredo recalls. “That experience made me want to merge both worlds – the scientific with the economic.”
Alfredo’s international experience demonstrates the interconnectedness of the agriculture and AgTech industries, and mirrors Roslin Tech’s reach around the world. After completing his studies in Chile and working for a short time on his father’s farm, he travelled to New Zealand’s Massey University in Palmerston North to pursue a PhD in animal breeding, and it was there that his technical focus took off.
At that time (2007), interest in genomic selection was gathering pace, providing a more accurate way for breeders to produce the animals with improved characteristics that they aspired to. While genetic evaluation uses information that you garner from physical measurements of each animal, along with all the pedigree information available, genomic analysis includes scientific information based on DNA markers. This can make the improved breeding process more efficient, but also more complicated, evaluating thousands of data points per animal.
A brief stint back in Chile then lead to 18 months working in South Africa, where Alfredo’s experience developed further, researching the genetics of Brahman beef cattle, dairy cattle and also some wildlife. After completing his “tour” of the Southern Hemisphere, Alfredo moved to Scotland in 2018 to work at the Scottish Rural College, after which he moved to Roslin Technologies in 2019 to support the expansion of our breeding programmes platform.
As well as helping develop bespoke breeding programmes for pigs, Alfredo is now involved in designing breeding programmes for insect farming, a component of which is a purpose built insect genetic nucleus facility located near our headquarters.
A key to our service is to support our clients in building innovative breeding programmes for their specific needs, most importantly helping them develop user-friendly information pipelines to perform their evaluation systems. When making decisions that will determine the feasibility and profitability of farming ventures, it is critical that the quality of the information is the best it can be.
“The most important thing is information,” Alfredo says. “The key thing to any breeding programme is to have accurate information stored safely and analysed using the right tools.”
And as for Roslin Tech’s future in breeding?
“My ambition is for it to be a reference for the rest of the industry in the development of breeding programmes, and that our clients thrive in their respective sectors with our help.”