Subclinical signs of stress are difficult to detect but the new platform EPIHERD, developed by Antler Bio, is harnessing gene expression data to reveal the impact of nature and nurture on the status of the herd. Farmers are given advice 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.
Benefiting from the Agri-TechE ecosystem
After presenting in the REAP 2022 Start-up Showcase, Antler Bio joined Agri-TechE. The membership organisation supports innovation in agricultural technologies, and Maria was keen to benefit from the network.
Director Dr Belinda Clarke comments that Antler Bio is a welcome addition to the innovation ecosystem.
She says: “Changing climate patterns are making our crops and livestock vulnerable to new strains of disease and to a shortage of resources – such as water.
“Identifying stress at an early stage can help improve livestock performance in suboptimal environments. Antler Bio’s technology answers a key question in animal welfare and provides insights for pragmatic interventions.”
Impact of nature and nurture – Antler Bio can give the answer
Cows with the same genetics may perform very differently to one another; this means that gene expression may be influenced by environmental factors.
Maria says: “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.”
Signatures that indicate dehydration
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.”
Creating opportunities from challenge at REAP 2023
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.
The company has since attracted further funding. Antler Bio is building towards a seed round, has recently closed a bridging funding round with the Nest Family Office, and 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 – here we ask some: where are they now? This year’s line-up is being kept under wraps until the conference on 8th November 2023.
Find out more about Antler Bio at www.antlerbio.com.
Find out more about REAP at reapconference.co.uk.
Wednesday 8th November, 9:30 am – 6:30 pm
Rowley Mile Conference Centre, Newmarket
Surviving and thriving under increasingly extreme and unpredictable challenges is the theme of the 2023 REAP conference. To build a productive, profitable and sustainable agri-food industry, we must move away from the comfort zone and become open to the new opportunities that exist when we ‘stretch’. Be a part of that future – bring yourself and your ideas to REAP.