The grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will help Acceligen to develop bovine traits for sustainable production in the Sub-Saharan African region


Acceligen secures grant to develop bovine genetics. (Credit: Acceligen.)

Acceligen, a subsidiary of Recombinetics, has secured a $3.68m grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for the development of bovine genetics optimised for small-scale dairy farmers, particularly in the Sub-Saharan African (SSA) region.

The breeding programme, launched by Acceligen, is expected to contribute to more sustainable production by using traits that can increase farmer income while improving animal health.

Through the support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Acceligen aims to deploy a suite of traits from their discovery pipeline to commercially important dairy animals with high genetic merit for production and durability.

It can be accomplished through gene editing of multiple traits from a series of donor animals in the US and Brazil.

The sustainable traits include milk yield and adaptation to tropical heat

The primary traits could include adaptation to tropical heat and milk yield, while other traits to adapt to local diseases and management preferences can also be added through the inputs derived from the smallholder dairy farmers.

Acceligen CEO and project lead Tad Sonstegard said: “A critical part of this effort is to introduce multiple adaptation traits into the founder animals so that their hybrid progeny are fully functional in tropical environments.

“Native dairy animals, although typically well adapted to local environmental conditions, have been under little or no selection for milk production.

“When we combine gene editing with top merit animals using advanced reproductive technologies from our partners Kheiron (Pilar, Argentina) and TransOva Genetics (Sioux Center, IA), we can make significant genetic improvement for well-adapted, high yielding dairy cows. Our goal is to get these animals into the hands of smallholder farmers.”

At present, the SSA dairy animals generally have a much higher ratio of greenhouse gas to animal protein output compared other breeds in the EU and the US, said Acceligen.

Acceligen commercial operations director Sabreena Larson said: “By gene-editing animals to be more sustainable and enable smallholder farmers to better provide for their families, this project exemplifies what Acceligen is really about.

“Acceligen is driven to implement the use of gene editing in livestock to increase animal welfare and sustainability while helping to improve the globe by reducing hunger and fighting climate change.”