Technologies Highlighted at BIF

By Will Bollum, WAR Field Editor

I had the opportunity to attend the 2019 Beef Improvement Research Symposium and Convention (BIF) in Brookings, South Dakota last week.  The event drew in over 450 attendees this year.  The attendees were largely comprised of purebred and commercial cattlemen, industry professionals, academia, as well as graduate and doctorate students from across the country.

It was incredibly amazing to see so many people gathered together to focus solely on progressing the beef industry forward.  A great deal of innovation and technology has helped agriculture progress at a very quick rate in recent times.  A lot of this technology can be seen in the crop production industries, including technology in precision agriculture and gene modification for example.  The increases in crop yields over the past 100 years is completely outrageous to see.

After attending BIF, it was much more apparent that technological innovations have been shaping the beef industry and will continue to do so at an increased rate going forward.  I believe that some of the technologies presented at the conference could be the next biggest innovations since the introduction of artificial insemination (AI).  There was a multitude of information available at the convention pertaining to numerous topics and a few of the talks stuck out in my mind.

The discussions I found most interesting were focused on advancements in reproductive technologies.  Dr. Mark Allan from Trans Ova Genetics spoke about a procedure called Laparoscopic Ovum Pick Up, in which the donor females need not be more than two months of age.  This procedure can collect oocytes from these young donors, fertilize and incubate them, then transfer the embryos into recipients.  With this procedure, the donor can be 11 months of age when their first offspring hit the ground.

Dr. Allan also spoke about the advancements in embryo testing.  At this point in time, they can take a DNA sample from an embryo as soon as it is collected from a donor, and within 30 days they will have the entire DNA sequence of that embryo.  With the DNA sequence, they can determine whether the embryo is male or female, has desirable traits, such as horned or polled, as well as being able to tell if it has genetic defects.  Currently, this technology is too expensive to be implemented in a production operation, but it is very interesting that they are able to determine so much information so quickly.

Another very intriguing speaker was Dr. Alison Van Eenennaam of UC Davis.  She is an Extension Specialist in Animal Biotechnology and Genomics.  Her lab focuses on utilizing CRISPR in animals.  CRISPR is an enzyme that acts as a pair of scissors, cutting out specific strands of DNA.  Dr. Van Eenennaam used CRISPR to cut out the horned genes in a Holstein, in order to create a phenotypically polled animal.  This technology has also been used in cattle to create Tuberculosis resistance and to increase tenderness, along with several other uses currently in testing.  The possibilities for this technology are endless.

Dr. Van Eenennaam also discussed a procedure that is in the development stages called the Surrogate Sire Production Model.  With this procedure, they would be able to take the germ cells from the testes of a donor bull and transfer them into a surrogate bull, the surrogate would then create semen identical to that of the donor bull.  For example, you could take the germ cells from a low heat tolerant bull like an Angus and transfer them into a more heat tolerant bull like a Brahman.  This would allow the surrogate bull to produce semen identical to the Angus bull yet withstand a much hotter environment.  This procedure is still in its early stages, but if this becomes a functional model, it could cause immense changes to the industry.

Aside from advanced reproductive technologies, there were talks pertaining to genomics, data management, accounting principles, and innovation.  Moving forward there will be numerous changes and improvements coming down the road for the beef industry.  The BIF Convention was a true meeting of the minds.  I believe that it is a valuable experience for anyone involved in any aspect of beef production.  It was a great opportunity to learn from industry experts, as well as visit with producers from across the county and reconnect with old friends.  Next year’s convention is in Kissimmee, Florida and I would wholeheartedly recommend anyone to attend.


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