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Same parents, different outcomes

Agri-TechE Article
Agri-TechE
Maria Jensen, Antler Bio, speaking at REAP 2022
Maria Jensen, Antler Bio, speaking at REAP 2022

“I have two racehorses with the same parents, but one has won 5M, the other €5K; why?” This was the question that fuelled the curiosity of Maria Jensen, founder and CEO of Antler Bio, to look at the impact of nurture on gene expression. The result is the EPIHERD Platform, a technology that bridges the massive data gap between an animal’s potential and its performance.

The company originally started by looking at racehorses, but is now focussed on the dairy industry, where more effective breeding and management would revolutionise productivity. Maria outlined the huge potential for Antler Bio’s technology in the Agri-TechE REAP 2022 Start-Up Showcase.

Maria explains: “A farmer can have two genetically similar cows on the same farm, but one might produce three times as much and is much healthier than the other. It’s evident that genetics alone does not explain these differences.

“I considered that if we could better understand the data behind the best producing and healthiest individuals and were able to more accurately identify the next generation of animals to meet these standards, then the industry could be producing at least three times as much high-quality produce with the current number of animals and with even fewer resources, thereby reducing methane output by up to 40%*.”

Current genetic testing looks for the presence and absence of gene variants that can affect different traits, such as milk yield, conformation, and fertility. These tests, however, do not quantify how much relevant genes are expressed and whether they are even active. It is also recognised that environmental factors such as nutrition, animal husbandry and stress can influence gene expression and directly impact the animal’s performance. Understanding these processes and their mechanisms is called epigenomics.

Maria continues: “Our innovative EPIHERD Platform focuses on the analysis of epigenomic data, looking at expression of key genes that impact health and performance, not just the presence or absence of a gene as with classical genetic testing. By measuring which genes are actually active in an animal and their level of activity we bridge the existing data gap between the animal’s DNA and the environment it resides in.

“In addition, by understanding which events trigger 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.”

EPIHERD aims to help farmers:

  • Analyse herd performance against its actual potential
  • Improve animal management and husbandry in a targeted way
  • Strategically select individuals for breeding and production
  • Detect developing health disorders before any symptoms arise
  • Reduce GHG emissions/carbon footprints via increased efficiency
  • Gain a rapid ROI with low risk

Maria Jensen, Antler Bio, in the REAP 2022 Start-Up Showcase

Based in Dublin and Cambridge UK, the company has so far raised over £1M in equity and grants including from Innovate UK and is looking towards further fund raising.

“The Innovate UK project started in February 2022,” says Maria. “We are currently generating proprietary epigenomic data from samples such as blood and milk from dairy cattle and building the EPIHERD platform. This will deliver results and insights to the farmer in an easy-to-understand and actionable format. This platform is scalable to plants and even humans in the future.”

Dr Belinda Clarke, Director of Agri-TechE, comments: “The potential role of so-called epi-genomics in breeding improvement has been hugely under-exploited to date. I am sure that Antler Bio’s innovative approach will attract significant interest from the agri-tech innovation ecosystem. REAP has provided profile for many exciting early-stage businesses with collaborators, end users and investors. 14 of the companies previously featured have collectively raised over £92 Million in the last three years.”

Find out more at antlerbio.com

*Epigenetic regulation of milk production in dairy cows, Singh et al: pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20131087


REAP 2022: Making Sense of AgricultureREAP 2022: ‘Making Sense of Agriculture’ – Tuesday 8th November 2022 

From yield mapping and precision livestock through to digital twins and cloud computing, at REAP 2022 we will be exploring the technology and looking at the implications from a field to landscape level. Making technology farm-centric is core to Agri-TechE’s mission so a key feature of the conference will be a panel of farmers and producers discussing the emerging technologies and future scenarios.

reapconference.co.uk