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Could dehydration be a factor in the poorer milk yield from cows with similar genetics? Subclinical signs of stress are difficult to detect but the new platform EPIHERD, developed by Antler Bio, is harnessing gene expression data to advise on the status of the herd and advise on targeted interventions.
Maria Jensen, CEO of Cambridge-based Antler Bio, says that results from its recent collaborative research project have exceeded expectations.
“Using EPIHERD we are able to do a deep dive to investigate, for example, why genetically similar individuals in the herd have lower milk yield, and to report this back to farmers so they can take action.” The company was recently awarded follow on funding from the Innovate UK Better Food for All.
Antler Bio is a member of Agri-TechE, a membership organisation that supports innovation in agricultural technologies.
Director Dr Belinda Clarke comments that recognising stress at an early stage can help livestock’s resilience in suboptimal environments.
She says: “Changing climate patterns are making our crops and livestock vulnerable to new strains of disease and shortage of resources. Better understanding of processes refined by nature is a promising opportunity for new solutions to difficult challenges. Antler Bio’s technology provides insights for pragmatic interventions.”
The theme of the 2023 Agri-TechE REAP Conference is ‘Adaptation Through Innovation; Beyond the Comfort Zone’ and it will explore strategies for creating opportunity from challenge. It includes a carefully curated Start-Up Showcase of early growth companies with promising technologies.
Antler Bio presented last year and Maria reports that since then they have been delighted with the response from farmers to their decision support platform.
She explains that cows with the same genetics may perform very differently to one another; this means that gene expression may be influenced by environmental factors: “By measuring which genes are actually active in an animal, and their level of activity, we can bridge the existing data gap between the animal’s DNA and its performance.
“Our project aimed to understand the gene expression profiles between top and underperforming dairy cattle. We have succeeded in identifying novel biomarkers that are linked to productivity, and these are being patented. We have also developed a highly sophisticated data analysis and validation methodology and have built this into our EPIHERD reporting platform.
“By understanding events that promote desirable or undesirable gene expression we can give precision recommendations regarding habitat, animal husbandry and feed in order to unlock the herd’s full potential and support herd health in a natural way.”
Maria gives an example of one herd where they were able to determine that the significant difference between high and low performing individuals were signatures of dehydration between these groups.
“When we presented this to the farmer, he thought it was most likely due to the combination of herd dynamics and the positioning of the water troughs. He immediately bought a water unit and installed it at a strategic spot, enabling better water access to the high-potential but submissive animals.
“The data from another herd revealed a need for omega-3 fatty acids and choline, which previously had gone unnoticed even though they conduct routine analysis on the forage with nutritional experts. This farm started supplementing the herd and have reported an increase in milk yield ever since.
“Another example was a farm where herd data indicated that the cows were stressed due to suboptimal hygiene conditions in the barn. Although the animals were healthy and unaffected on a visible level, our data showed that they were constantly diverting energy that could be used for milk production towards counteracting infections. Through simple hygiene improvements the farm was able to increase milk yield.
“These few examples highlight the power and the potential of the data that we bring to the farmers’ fingertips.”
Antler Bio is building towards a seed round, has recently closed a bridging funding round with the Nest Family Office, and has secured a Women TechEU award from the European Commission.
The Start-Up Showcase at REAP has provided profile for many exciting early-stage businesses with collaborators, end-users, and investors. This year’s line-up is being kept under wraps until the conference on 8th November 2023.
This year’s conference includes a keynote session featuring Defra Chief Scientist Prof Gideon Henderson and livestock farmer and NFU Vice President David Exwood.
Find out more about Antler Bio at www.antlerbio.com.
Find out more about REAP at reapconference.co.uk.