THE rapid momentum being seen in the field of animal genetics through the application of genomics underpinned the opening of a shiny new $11 million, state-of-the-art DNA sampling and analysis facility near Brisbane on Friday.
Supported by the Queensland Government’s Advance Queensland Industry Attraction Fund, the new site developed by Neogen near Ipswich is Australia’s largest genomics facility with a capacity of up to one million DNA samples per year with its high-end -Genome analysis tools and robotic processing.
Global genomics company Neogen offers a range of diagnostic solutions and services for the food processing, animal protein and agriculture industries, covering animal genomics, food safety and animal safety. The company operates in 160 countries around the world and has a market capitalization of $2 billion.
Worldwide, Neogen genotypes six million animals each year, both livestock and companion species.
The new 3000m2 Ipswich laboratory, technical support, handling, warehousing and distribution complex officially opened on Friday. The company has invested more than $100 million in Australia since arriving in 2017 – much of it self-funded.
The new facility replaces a smaller center on the University of Queensland’s Gatton campus that had exceeded its working capacity.
Senior Director of Neogen Australasia Bobby Creasman said the new center offers room to grow into the future and supports the company’s promise to positively impact local and rural jobs and agribusinesses.
“Neogen Australasia currently employs 68 people and we expect to add at least 25 more new jobs over the next five years to ensure we can continue to meet the needs and expectations of Australian ranchers and food processors,” said Mr. Creasman.
“This is a story about growth,” said Neogen’s international vice president dr Jason Lily told industry stakeholders gathered for the official opening on Friday.
“It’s a story of growing locally, growing our Australian investments, growing our industry partnerships and growing our people,” he said.
Neogen acquired the University of Queensland’s current genomics business in 2017 and recently spent $500 million to acquire 3M’s global food safety division. Since 2017, the company has grown annual sales in Australia from $3 million to $35 million per year through organic growth and acquisitions.
“This location is a great genesis for the new company and the timing for this new facility is wonderful,” said Dr. Lilly, he said. “We are able to better serve customers by being local and meeting their needs.”
Neogen will also continue to invest in DNA sequencing machines, each worth around $1 million, which have the potential to have a huge impact on future livestock production by rapidly sequencing thousands of animals.
“We are only at the tip of the iceberg of where genomics will take over animal production – boosting the industry by making animal production more efficient and sustainable. That’s where this business is going.”
Last month, the new facility processed 70,000 DNA samples, its biggest month yet – all analyzed using highly automated testing equipment.
At this point, cattle make up 60 percent of Neogen’s total Australian genomics business, with Wagyu accounting for the bulk of that (about 15,000 samples last month), followed by Angus. But a large number of other breeds of cattle also use the service.
Test forage cattle
Future opportunities lie in the genomic analysis not only of breeding cattle, but also of fattening cattle intended for fattening. Animals with excellent marbling and growth rate potential can be kept separate from cattle with lower potential.
Neogen is already doing some business in the US for this purpose and expects to follow suit in Australia.
“We are already working closely with our industry partners such as the Australian Wagyu Association,” said Dr. Lilly.
“This is important in Wagyu because these animals are fed for so long and non-compliance can be expensive. We may not be able to predict the elite feedlot and chiller performers among Wagyu F1 crossbreeds, but if we can at least eliminate the bottom ten percent it would be commercially valuable. It’s a win-win situation.”
“We definitely see that over the next five years, as this technology scales to the speed of trading (ie feedlot operations), we can penetrate 20 to 30 percent of that market. In the US, 30 percent of all dairy calves going into milk production are now genetically tested. That is currently around 3.5 million per year.”
Some of the currently used density DNA chips (see picture) cover 100,000 DNA markers with 500,000 data points each. Not long ago, DNA tests used in Australia analyzed only 16,000 markers.
The current analysis examines more than 60 individual traits in dairy and up to 30-40 in beef, including recessive traits.
Once each chip is scanned, the presence of the marker will be displayed in green and its absence in red on a screen (see image below). Data is analyzed and reviewed by a team of six data scientists before being delivered to customers.
The investment in the new facility will provide Australia’s agribusiness sector with streamlined and improved solutions at every stage of the food supply chain, listeners were told on Friday.
“Our new Ipswich facility will be at the forefront of ensuring greater accessibility of genomic tools at better value for producers, while providing more information about the animal production value chain,” said Dr. Lilly.