AFTER severing its financial ties with sheep industry’s genetic evaluation service, Sheep Genetics, Australian Wool Innovation is negotiating a licence with Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) to access the analytical software used for Merino genetic evaluation.
AWI withdrew its financial support of the Sheep Genetics management agreement last year. The agreement meant AWI contributed half of the development costs for MERINOSELECT, the genetic evaluation for the Merino industry.
Sheep Genetics, which delivers both MERINOSELECT and LAMBPLAN to the sheep industry, was previously funded by AWI and MLA, with a user pays component.
Sheep Genetics is now solely managed by MLA.
A part of the relationship termination between the two groups meant MLA would maintain MERINOSELECT and AWI would not create a competing service.
I don’t believe (AWI) understood that they wouldn’t still have unfettered access to OVIS outside of the Sheep Genetics relationship.
However the launch of the multi-million dollar Merino Lifetime Productivity (MLP) project in 2015 has raised issues with the accessing, storing and analysing of genetic data.
At the centre of the negotiations is access to OVIS – the analytical software used for Sheep Genetics’ core evaluations, MERINOSELECT and LAMBPLAN.
“When AWI withdrew from Sheep Genetics they understood in doing so they had no direct rights to the data held by Sheep Genetics,” MLA sheep research and development program manager Richard Apps said.
“I don’t believe they understood that they wouldn’t still have unfettered access to OVIS outside of the Sheep Genetics relationship.”
When the agreement between the two groups dissolved last year, the intellectual property of OVIS was returned to MLA.
“AWI have stepped away from projects that were core around genetic evaluation and genomic breeding values,” Mr Apps said.
Sources privy to negotiations said AWI required access OVIS to analyse the MLP data which is expected to be submitted by project collaborators Australian Merino Sire Evaluation Association (AMSEA).
“The power of data is in aggregation with genetic evaluation, not creating islands of data,” Mr Apps said.
“For the best value to the industry, (MLP results) need to go into MERINOSELECT, and in real time.”
AWI declined to comment for this story stating the “subject is commercial in confidence at this point in time”.
Mr Apps said a “must have term” in the new licence contract would be AWI not publishing or producing breeding values competitive to MERINOSELECT.
“In 2005 that was a key driver of getting MERINOSELECT started – there were rams in the industry with two to three different breeding values, which is highly confusing,” he said.
AWI initially supported the Information Nucleus Flock through their participation in the Sheep CRC.
After AWI’s withdrawal from funding the CRC as a participant, MLA took on the sole funding responsibility for the INF, renamed MLA Resource Flock.
With the Resource Flock focusing on carcase and eating quality traits, MLA genetics program manager Hamish Chandler said MLA welcomed AWI’s collaboration with wool traits collected through the MLP.
“The only thing we need to work out really is how MLA and AWI collaborate so any genetic research for sheep can benefit the whole industry,” Mr Chandler said.
“Different organisations have different ways of approaching how they would like to make their investments - at the end of the day those organisations are answerable to their levy payers.”
He said Sheep Genetics’ single step analysis, which simultaneously analysis genomic and genetic data, was a “world first” for genetic evaluation in the red meat industry.
“Some of the development work was done while we had AWI investing,” Mr Chandler said.
“The final piece of that work was finished by MLA. At the end of the day we are developing a world class product to industry.”
Mr Chandler said as part of this, a new database was currently being scoped in an effort to integrate MERINOSELECT and LAMBPLAN databases with other industry databases such as Livestock Data Link for accurate carcase feedback.
“We will have the ability to integrate carcase information with our genetic evaluation services, giving us more accurate data than we ever would have seen before, completing that feedback loop,” he said.
“This will strongly inform our breeding programs and start getting closer to what the consumer needs to know about the product.”