The demand for food is expected to increase by 70% in 2050, and many of the current food production systems threaten the global capacity to meet this demand. The consumption of meat, for example, is expected to double from 229 million tons produced in 1999/2001 to 465 million tons in 2050, both in developed and developing countries.
In the near future, the production of livestock will be increasingly affected by the competition for natural resources, especially land and water, and by the need to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and environmental impact without neglecting animal welfare. Considering this scenario, molecular genetics tools have a significant impact, particularly in the genetic improvement of traits of economic importance that are difficult to measure, such as meat quality and resistance to diseases, or traits of late expression in the life of an animal or expressed only in one gender, such as milk production and longevity.
The availability of increasingly better annotated genome sequences of species of production animals (cattle, sheep, pigs, birds, etc.) and the decrease in sequencing prices has led to the development of tools that offer new application opportunities to improve the competitiveness of the sector. One of the clearest examples is genomic selection based on the incorporation of genotypes for thousands of markers in the estimation of the genetic merit of breeders. Genomic selection can improve new traits of economic importance, and significantly accelerate genetic progress through a precise selection of the best breeders at a younger age. In this context, the development of an Animal DNA Genomic Bank, jointly with the National Research Program on Meat and Wool Production and the National Research Program on Dairy Production, and with the support of the productive sector, is a significant step for the establishment of a platform for animal genomic selection. In integration with this technological platform, there are research projects in genomics and other 'omics', both on bovine cattle and sheep, with the purpose of generating training populations for genomic selection and to increase our understanding of the genetic determinants of important traits of the livestock chain.
These research projects are the result of cooperation not only with interdisciplinary groups within INIA, but also with research groups from other institutions whose contribution is fundamental, such as the University of the Republic of Uruguay, the Clemente Estable Institute for Biological Research, the Pasteur Institute and the Uruguayan Wool Institute. The different projects are additionally supported by the productive sector (Societies of Breeders, Uruguayan Rural Association, Meat Packing Industry), national agencies (National Meat Industry, Ministry of Livestock, Agriculture and Fisheries) and national and international research supporting institutions.