An animal science legacy
The legacy of JS Davies is already being seen in the work of Roseworthy campus' Professor Stefan Hiendleder with great potential benefits for animal production and quality.
Professor Hiendleder came to the University of Adelaide in 2005 as the JS Davies Professorial Fellow.
His work in the field of epigenetics and genetics promises tremendous advances in animal breeding.
Epigenetics, Professor Hiendleder explains, is the science "on top of genetics", referring to heritable changes in the ways our genes are expressed. These modified genomes follow different patterns of inheritance than the classic mendelian genetics we all learn about in school.
"My group is interested in determining which traits are affected by these non-classical genetics," says Professor Hiendleder. The research group is identifying genetic markers for specific genes under epigenetic control. To date, there are virtually no data on this in farm animals.
"We are using bovine models to generate outcomes in epigenetics that will be of great benefit to the beef industry and beyond, including human medicine," he says.
Current breeding programs in animals do not take these epigenetic effects into account. For example, models used today suggest that fertility has a very low degree of heritability. But there is increasing evidence that when individual components are investigated, for example ovulation rate in cattle, epigenetic effects are playing a much larger role than previously thought.
"By identifying these non-mendelian modes of inheritance for genes that have important production and quality outcomes, we can better understand the genetic architecture of quantitative traits in animals and humans.
"For beef producers, this means more accurate estimates of the breeding values of animals," Professor Hiendleder says. "That leads to increased efficiencies - we can select for particular characteristics more efficiently; we can produce with less inputs and produce higher quality."
Professor Hiendleder came to Roseworthy from the highly regarded Gene Centre of the Ludwig-Maximilian University in Munich.
He was attracted to the University of Adelaide because of the world-leading researchers in pre-and post-natal development (he is also a research leader in the Robinson Institute's Research Centre for Reproductive Health) and because of the JS Davies funding that enabled him to establish a unique bovine tissue bank at Roseworthy, allowing him to do this exciting work.
"This is an extremely valuable resource," Professor Hiendleder says. "No-one else in the world has anything like we have here."
He leads the JS Davies Epigenetics and Genetics Group with four PhD students, one post-doctoral research fellow and a shifting population of Honours and Veterinary Sciences students.
Head of the School of Animal and Veterinary Sciences, Professor Kym Abbott, says: "The School already has a number of outstanding animal scientists who have worked in the areas of genetics, nutrition, food and fibre production of ruminants for over a decade.
"The more recent arrival of Professor Stefan Hiendleder, with his exciting and groundbreaking work on epigenetics in beef cattle, has expanded and strengthened the School's position as a leading research provider in these fields.
"The expansion of the JS Davies bequest will now facilitate the appointment of at least two more eminent researchers and the creation of a centre for research in the areas related to food animal production, health and welfare.
"Within five years we expect this unit will be the most significant research hub for food and fibre animals in Australia, including, as you would expect in a vibrant research institution, a large body of postdoctoral scientists and PhD students."
story by Robyn Mills