Spotlight - Jennie Pryce

Name: Jennie Pryce
Title: Principal research scientist at Agriculture Victoria and professor at La Trobe University
Institution: Agriculture Victoria and La Trobe University

Can you tell us a bit about your background, and what your current research is focused on?
I am known for my work integrating data from different disciplines to provide dairy science solutions (especially with genomics) to improve the sustainability and profitability of dairying. I grew up on a dairy farm in Shrewsbury (UK), where at a young age I bred pedigree Holstein dairy cattle under the registered prefix of Severnvale Holsteins. I received my PhD from The University of Edinburgh (UK) in 1998. Prior to my work in Australia, I was employed as a dairy geneticist by the Scottish Agricultural College (UK) and as a scientist by the Livestock Improvement Corporation (New Zealand). My main research interests include genetic improvement of functional traits (especially female fertility and feed conversion efficiency), optimizing breeding scheme design under genomic selection, developing dairy selection indices, and improving the accuracy of new and existing breeding values.

What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in the industry since you started? Do you have any predictions for the future?
When I did my PhD in the 1990s, it was clear that single-trait selection for production traits, and to some extent conformation and type, were leading to a decline in the health and fertility of dairy cows. I distinctly remember as a young researcher constantly being challenged with “how could genetics help, because the heritability of these traits is so low?” Fast forward to today, and we have seen a big dip in Holstein cow genetic merit for fertility, followed by a truly remarkable recovery, proving that while fertility (and health traits) may have low heritability, there is a lot of genetic variation. Looking into the future, I think the rate of inbreeding is now the biggest threat in the dairy genetics area. We are seeing increasing rates of inbreeding going hand in hand with genetic gain through genomic selection. Solving this problem will require an integrated approach with breeding companies, farmers, and researchers all playing a crucial role. 

What has been your biggest challenge/greatest achievement in your career so far?
I very much enjoyed being part of the research team that led the work on releasing the world’s first Feed Saved breeding values. The Feed Saved breeding value allows farmers to breed dairy cows that produce the same amount of milk from less feed due to lower maintenance requirements, and it was the first practical use of genomic tests to measure a trait that can’t be routinely measured on farm by combining real feed intake data (from research farms) with maintenance requirements estimated from body weight. It has been very flattering to see other countries adopt approaches that are very similar to our Feed Saved breeding values.

Can you share a particularly memorable experience or breakthrough in your research?
It’s really hard to choose a particularly memorable experience as there are so many. I particularly like to see the excitement of PhD students when they get papers accepted (especially their first). I also like to see our research being turned into breeding values that farmers use, such as Heat Tolerance and Feed Saved EBVs. It’s great to attend industry meetings and have farmers say that our research is having a positive effect on their business; for example, we often get that kind of feedback for fertility breeding values. 

What research areas within the field interest you most? Are there any particular trends of study that you are drawn to?
I am very interested in opportunities to use genomic selection to breed for new traits. I am currently focused on integrating molecular phenotyping approaches with genomic and sequence data. I think there is a lot of scope for this to be the next big breakthrough in my field.

What kind of papers would you like to attract more to JDS Communications? Do you have any advice for authors that would help them in deciding whether to submit?
My favorite papers are those that are very cutting edge and perhaps risky in their approach but display very novel thinking. Provided the science is robust, JDS Communications is the perfect home for these papers.

Why do we need a journal like JDS Communications today? Why should authors publish in JDS Communications?
What appeals to me about JDS Communications is the brevity of the papers. I think as scientists, we often fall into the trap of being too verbose, when most of our research can be written concisely. If the research is great science, it’s likely to be more highly cited if it is written in a concise format. That’s because writing in this way is more appealing for the reader, although it can be a challenge for the scientist. The advice I would give to anyone wanting to publish is to think about what you’re writing from the reader’s perspective. I think providing a platform to change our approach to publishing is exciting.

What do you think are the biggest challenges currently facing the dairy industry, and how is JDS Communications part of the solution?
Without a doubt, climate change is the biggest challenge currently facing the dairy industry, as well as the associated challenges related to feeding worldwide populations. Rightly or wrongly, dairy cows have been portrayed poorly in respect to their effect on global emissions. The best solutions are likely to come from collaborative approaches where research teams think differently. JDS Communications can help by being the first to publish this work.