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Renee Bongers

MSc student, Department of Animal Biosciences, Ontario Agricultural College

Research focus: Genetic evaluation of leukosis in dairy cattle 

Renee Bongers
Photo by Hanne Goetz

Growing up on a dairy farm in Eastern Ontario, Renee Bongers developed an interest in working with dairy cattle at an early age. Coming to the University of Guelph to pursue a Bachelor’s Degree in Animal Biology was an easy decision for her due to the University’s strong agricultural roots.

After completing her undergraduate degree, she worked on multiple dairy farms in New Zealand before returning to Ontario to complete a graduate certificate program in Agricultural Business Management at Fanshawe College. However, during her undergraduate degree at Guelph, she found a passion for dairy genetics through her study abroad program in Sweden and genetics courses at the University of Guelph. She connected with Dr. Christine Baes, who had a master’s student position available to explore the genetic components of leukosis in dairy cattle – a topic of particular interest to Renee due to her experience working on dairy farms.

Renee’s work features two important aspects of investigating the role of genetics in bovine leukosis: determining its prevalence in Canada and exploring if there is a genetic component that could be used in a selection program.

The disease is caused by Bovine Leukemia Virus (BLV) and has negative effects on milk production, immunity, fertility and response to vaccination. She has found that leukosis is prevalent in Canadian dairy herds: around 87 percent of herds that test for BLV have at least one positive cow, and 39 percent of cows in those herds are infected.

There is no treatment or vaccine to prevent BLV, so alternative control strategies are imperative. Prior to her research, similar projects had been completed in the United States on a smaller scale, so working with a large dataset in the Canadian context was a necessary next step to assess the potential genetic selection in this sector.

Reflecting on the work she’s been able to complete during her master’s degree, Bongers shared her enthusiasm about its potential implications for the Canadian industry: “We have found that it is heritable, so it is exciting that it could actually help Canadian dairy farmers genetically select for more resistance.”

With the end of her master’s degree in sight, Renee is considering several future opportunities. She’s interested in pursuing additional research in this area, but also plans on moving home to begin transitioning into taking over managing her family’s dairy farm.

Written by Hanne Goetz

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