By Jeanine Moyer for AgInnovation Ontario
Natural selection has enabled all kinds of life forms to adapt to changing environments. Most recently, a University of Guelph professor has harnessed natural variation within the immune system to identify and breed immunity traits to find the healthiest animals.
Years of research has led Dr. Bonnie Mallard, professor and inventor of the High Immune Response (HIR) Technology and the Immunity+ Technology, to develop a testing method to identify animals with natural immunity and enhanced disease resistance.
Her methods have been tested, proven and patented for use in dairy cattle and now Dr. Mallard is applying her research to help solve one of the most harmful diseases in beef cattle – Bovine Respiratory Disease (BRD).
“Breeding for naturally-occurring genetic immunity means we are selecting animals for their health,” says Dr. Mallard. “Healthier animals are happier animals, but our general research goal is to reduce the overall use of antibiotics associated with disease treatment.”
Dr. Mallard and her research team have been applying previously developed Immunity+ Technology, now available for the dairy cattle from Semex, to beef cattle. The research focuses on identifying animals with high immune response traits and breeding to enhance the desired immunity.
“While the animal’s overall health will improve, we’re targeting BRD, the most costly disease in Canada’s beef industry today,” says Dr. Mallard, explaining that an improved immune system will not only help animals ward off and naturally fight the disease, but animals will also respond better to vaccines, another boost for fighting BRD.
Extensive genetic and immunity testing continues and Dr. Mallard expects the HIR Technology testing method to be commercially available to beef farmers in a few years.
“This screening method could be a game changer in improving herd health – it’s a new farm management and breeding tool for livestock farmers to naturally improve herd health and productivity,” says Dr. Mallard.
The benefits of this screening technology can extend through the entire food chain too – right through to consumers. Dr. Mallard explains that beef sourced from naturally disease resistant animals is more sustainable and meets current consumer demands.
“Restaurants and grocery stores are already sourcing food with properties like sustainably sourced, GMO-free and organic. HIR offers farmers a new opportunity to raise naturally healthier animals, a win for everyone,” says Dr. Mallard.
The HIR Technology is expected to increase an animal’s immune system, helping beef cattle fight against BRD and provide a lifelong ability to protect themselves.
“We’re targeting this research to achieve the healthiest animals we can breed. Our goal is to provide healthier animals and healthier food,” says Dr. Mallard.
Funding from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs-University of Guelph Gryphon’s LAAIR (Leading to Accelerated Adoption of Innovative Research) program has enabled Dr. Mallard to continue her HIR technology research into increasing immune responses in beef cattle to BRD.
The Gryphon’s LAAIR is supported through Growing Forward 2, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative that encourages innovation, competitiveness, market development, and capacity building in Canada’s agri-food and agri-products sector.