Tradition meets technology in supporting genetic improvement

Tuesday 24th May 2022, 1:53pm

One of Britain’s oldest companies, Weatherbys, has taken a 35% stake in one of New Zealand’s newest companies – AbacusBio, a leading agribusiness company  with a UK consultancy based at Roslin Innovation Centre as part of the team providing services to a wide range of farmers and producers across the globe.

Pigs in barn - credit Roslin Innovation Centre, LP

AbacusBio has developed a software platform called Dtreo which uses data to drive decision-making around genetic improvements for livestock and plants. 

Dtreo was recently used in the PigBoost, in collaboration with the Roslin Institute, Vetline Services, and Makerere. Last year, Dtreo was spun out into a new company called VentureBio to allow its full potential to be realised by making it widely available for the first time.

Weatherbys began in Britain in 1770 and is primarily known as a horseracing institution, which touches almost every part of the thoroughbred industry both domestically and internationally. They published the first-ever Thoroughbred register over 200 years ago – their original ‘mother’ General Stud Book is the start point in terms of the recognition of the thoroughbred. 

The Weatherbys’ business has diversified dramatically in recent years, including into science, with the business operating one of the world’s most sophisticated DNA testing laboratories in Ireland. In addition to thoroughbreds, it provides genomic services to livestock producers internationally, across sheep, cattle and dogs. 

Weatherbys, which has worked with AbacusBio for some years, has now come on board as a partner and 35% shareholder of VentureBio, and will expand access to Dtreo across its global genetics customers.

“I’m very excited about the global opportunities that lie ahead for VentureBio and Dtreo, as genetics are a key influencer in animal and plant-based supply chains. My upbringing in farming, combined with my experience in consulting, company start-ups, and software as a service, gives me insight into the potential this brilliant technology offers for future food security and I’m proud to have been invited to become an independent director on the Board.”

Marcus Morrison, K3 Consulting and Zagga founder and Chair of VentureBio

“We’ve already been using Dtreo very successfully in our own business, via our long connection with AbacusBio. Now, with our shareholding in VentureBio, we will be able to offer our customers an enhanced level of genomic services too. The beauty of Dtreo is how its in-depth data puts decision-making directly in the hands of the producer – that makes for a compelling customer offering across equine, bovine, ovine and canine species.”

Russell Ferris, Weatherbys Chief Executive and VentureBio board member

Up until now, Dtreo has been a bespoke platform for individual clients, whether that’s beef farmers in New Zealand or goat and pig farmers in Tanzania, Uganda and India. But now VentureBio has been enhanced to be a very customisable platform that is flexible, easily integrated, and delivers consistent in-depth genetic or genomic data to food and fibre producing customers, whether they farm animals, insects or crops. 

“Improved data allows better decision-making for farmers. It’s not just about improving profitability and margins. Dtreo’s data points can also drive choices around welfare implications, feed inputs, carbon outputs, sustainability – it has the capability to allow those decisions to be made more effectively and readily.

“Farming is attracting attention as climate change, animal husbandry and social licence issues are raised but farmers are very pro-active and are always willing to improve. Genomics will increasingly play an important role in informing farmers’ decisions. Farmers are taking ownership of this and VentureBio and Dtreo will be an important element of that.”

Russell Ferris, Weatherbys Chief Executive and VentureBio board member

“We’re not talking about genetic modification at all; it’s about using the traditional principles of genetic selection to enhance breeding programmes. Farmers have been doing this for generations but Dtreo delivers their data in a way which takes away the guesswork.”How long it takes to get that reliable data can depend on the species. 

“If you’re talking about growth of lambs, you can get good data after one year. For reproduction traits, you might need three to five years. And for trees, it might take a decade before you have enough data.”

Marcus Morrison, K3 Consulting and Zagga founder and Chair of VentureBio

“Companies globally are looking to increase margins and find premium markets, especially in the face of climate change.  Using genetics to increase flavour, utilisation of forage types, improve survival, fibre quality etc is a great way to increase revenue without increasing costs, and it enables growers and farmers to really target their production to high value markets."

Melissa Clark-Reynolds, VentureBio Board as Deputy Chair

“This new business structure for the delivery of Dtreo will allow an idea that has been spun out of AbacusBio’s real-world experience to reach its full potential, both through a carefully calculated and robust investment strategy, and through the highly synergistic collaborative mix of VentureBio, Weatherbys, and AbacusBio.”

Peter Amer, AbacusBio, Managing Director

For now, VentureBio’s headquarters will continue to be in Dunedin, alongside AbacusBio.

In the UK, AbacusBio offices are in Roslin Innovation Centre on the University of Edinburgh Easter Bush Campus.

For more information, or to arrange interviews, please contact: 

Annie Hogan