What We Do
At AgGenetics, we believe that improving animal welfare can also improve the producer’s profitability. We’re using cutting edge biotechnology developed for human medicine to improve livestock health and performance.
We’re breeding Angus that don’t start to feel heat stress for an additional 15°F (8°C), increasing their comfort and welfare while nearly doubling the amount of beef produced for the same grain input in hot climate countries. We’re developing biomarker tests that allow nutrition to be customized to the breed, feed, and environment, improving gain, fertility, and milk yield in dairy and beef cattle. We’re creating bulls that only produce female semen, eliminating the expense and animal welfare issues associated with culling male calves.
50 years ago, Norman Borlaug brought about the Green Revolution by applying new science to problems of wheat production. AgGenetics is the Green Revolution for cattle.
Our business is built on the philosophy that happier, healthier animals are good for everyone’s bottom line.
Demand for animal protein has doubled in the past 30 years and is expected to double again in the next 30. Using common technology, there is no effective or economically viable model for addressing this demand. Clearing the world’s remaining wilderness, aside from the destruction of biodiversity this would entail, would still not provide the needed land. Increasing performance with hormones and antibiotics is unacceptable to consumers. Livestock genetic performance thus needs to be improved dramatically.
Currently, improvement of livestock performance is an extremely slow and uncertain process. The standard methodology requires decades of work selecting animals that exhibit slightly stronger traits and breeding them to one another. This is not only a slow process, but often fails to achieve significant results. Even when it works though, the process of moving a trait between breeds can take decades; for example, since cattle have approximately a 2.5 year generation time and it takes between five and ten generations of breeding to completely move a trait from one breed to another, it takes 15-25 years to move a single trait between breeds. This is in the best case when breeding is guided by, for instance, strong genomically enhanced expected progeny difference (GE-EPD) based breeding.
Producers will also no longer be able to ignore animal welfare when trying to increase productivity. Consumer trust is essential to help sustain the growth of the livestock industry. Ninety percent of consumers support raising animals for food if they are treated humanely. Consumers associate humane animal treatment with food safety. The consumer beef index research shows that food safety is second only to taste in importance to consumers when making food purchasing decisions. So animal welfare equals food safety in the eyes of these consumers.
Bottom line: the world needs higher efficiency livestock, and neither clearing land, nor existing management methods, nor traditional or even GE-EPD based breeding, are going to solve the problem.
AgGenetics solves current agricultural demands in a socially responsible way by harnessing the power of modern biotechnology. We can improve animal efficiency while simultaneously improving their welfare in two ways: by editing their genes to improve their adaptation to their environment and use; and by developing biomarkers to allow precise management of nutritional requirements.
Our initial products save the producers money while increasing their performance, driving adoption of our technologies.
Adapt cutting edge biotechnology designed for human applications to the livestock world.
We have three initial products:
Heat Adapted Angus
The Black and Red Angus breeds are perhaps the most efficient, fastest growing, and best value for meat quality in the world. However, their poor tolerance for heat stress prevents their use in hot climates like Brazil, and lowers their performance even in the southern United States.
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We have swapped out genes to improve heat tolerance by 15°F (8°C), making them commercially viable in hot climates. Since these genes are derived from other cattle breeds, the resulting animals are non-GMO. We can sell the straws of semen for a price comparable to other tropical cattle, but the resulting animals will gain twice the usable weight for the same feed as tropical cattle. There is a $100 billion global market for cattle that can tolerate higher temperatures, and the dramatic improvement in performance at the same price point is expected to drive rapid adoption.
Copper Deficiency/Toxicity Testing
Copper deficiency and toxicity are some of the most common metabolic and micronutrient problems in beef cattle. Poor copper balance results in poor gain, poor fertility, and poor milk yield, among other health problems. The current standard test requires an invasive liver biopsy, at an estimated price of $150 per animal, including veterinary costs for the ultrasound guided biopsy, and significant risk to the animal tested. There exists no reliable non-invasive test for detecting copper levels. We have developed a test that allows copper levels to be reliably measured using a skin punch, which is safe and are routinely performed by ranchers. The cost per test when in production is likely to be as low as $15-$20 per test. Dropping the cost of the test, which is widely acknowledged to be critical to proper herd management, by a factor of ten while making it safer and simpler to perform ought to give us a near monopoly on the market.
AgGenetics is currently collaborating with partners in Brazil to create bulls that naturally produce sexed semen without the need for flow sorting. Sexed semen is highly valuable for both the dairy and beef industry, but the current sorting process is inefficient and expensive, and the current alternative, culling bull calves, is a significant animal welfare issue and loss of revenue for the producer. We are taking bulls that have already been bred for the best genetics, and causing them to produce only female semen. We can thus produce naturally sexed semen, of much higher quality than semen that has been damaged by centrifugation, for a lower cost (essentially no increase in cost over normal semen, while centrifugation carries a $30/straw premium). Producing a higher quality product for a lower price is a good way to drive rapid adoption.
Spermatogonial Stem Cell Transfer
Improvements in treatments have led to a spectacular increase in life expectancy in pediatric oncology, with 1 in 250 young adults now a survivor of childhood cancer. However, cancer treatment regimens destroy the small pool of spermatogonial stem cells (SSCs) in the prepubertal testes, making infertility one of the most prevalent long-term side effects of cancer treatment in boys.
Although it is not ready for commercialization, AgGenetics has had strong success in SSC transfer experiments in livestock. Bovid hybrids (yak/bull and bison/bull crosses) are sterile for the same reason that cancer survivors are; failure of the SSC population. This makes them an ideal testing platform for therapies. We have recently rescued sperm production in a bison hybrid through stem cell transfer, using a combination of improved knowledge of needed growth factors and improved surgical techniques.
This rescue of fertility in a bovid mule is a global first. While this has applications in livestock management, it also has great potential for human translation.
AgGenetics operates cattle facilities in Tennessee and Alabama.