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Andy Robinson


Position/Title: Associate Professor
email: andyr@uoguelph.ca
Phone: (519) 824-4120 ext. 53679
Office: ANNU 122


You may think that swine and fish don’t have much in common, but they both have the same economically important traits. As production livestock, these animals are genetically selected for their health, growth rate and product quality. Andy is using genetic tools such as quantitative trait loci (sections of DNA that control specific traits), statistical modeling and bio-informatics to maximize these traits in swine and fish. His expertise in genetics is applicable across species. Growing up in Owen Sound, he spent his summers working on a farm after high school.

Academic History

  • B.Sc. in Agriculture, University of Guelph (1980)
  • M.Sc. in Animal Breeding, University of Guelph (1983)
  • Ph.D. in Animal Breeding, Statistics and Computing, Cornell University (1988)

Affiliations and Partnerships

  • Member of the Centre for Genetic Improvement of Livestock

Affiliations and Partnerships

  • OAC Distinguished Teaching Award (2014)

Research Impact

Andy is helping the Canadian swine breeding industry stay globally competitive through genetic improvement programs. By measuring certain phenotypes, such as feed efficiency and growth rate, he applies statistical models to the data to identify individual animals that have superior genetics. Another important tool is DNA sequencing, which allows researchers to identify animals that have the best combination of genes or alleles that produce the most desirable traits. Unlike genetically-modified organisms, genetic selection involves choosing animals that already have the best sets of DNA instead of trying to change their DNA.

Andy’s applied research contributes to knowledge transfer from the lab to industry partners. He serves on committees for national improvement initiatives, which bring researchers and industry partners together to develop research priorities. One of his research goals is to breed swine and fish that produce the same amount of meat with less feed to help reduce the environmental impact of these industries.

Current Research Projects

Breeding pigs for better bacon

Due to the high value of bacon, Andy is working with pig breeding companies to develop genetic lines of pigs that produce better quality bacon. One of his graduate students is studying bacon quality using ultrasound to measure the amount of muscle and fat. More meat gives bacon better structure, but the amount and type of fat also matter. Current ultrasound technology measures the amount of fat but not what type it is. Live animal assessment tools such as ultrasound allow his team to analyze bacon quality before slaughter. Breeding companies can then genetically select pigs that produce the best bacon.

Improved conformation

Conformation refers to the symmetry and structure of the animal. Pigs, for example, can develop foot problems if their weight isn’t evenly distributed on both toes of each foot. Genetic selection can eliminate this problem, improve animal welfare and reduce veterinary costs. Andy has also studied service dog breeding to select for conformation that avoids hip dysplasia problems.

Education research

Andy’s high teaching load inspired him to study how students learn. In a previous study, he looked at how students use podcasts from lectures and is now looking at how students use lecture capture content that faculty post online. He is currently teaching an in-class and distance education course in quantitative genetics to find out how distance students use recorded lecture material differently than in-class students.

Graduate Student Information

Andy believes the department’s industry connections make it easier for graduates to find employment using the skills they developed as students. For example, the graduate student working with him on the better bacon project found an industry position where she will apply her research skills.

Other graduate students have worked on various research projects, including pig breeding in tropical countries and the use of computer simulations to develop appropriate breeding strategies; and genetic improvement strategies for farmed Atlantic cod, looking at growth rate, disease resistance and product quality. Andy tailors his advising approach to each student, guiding master’s students to help them develop their research skills and coaching Ph.D. students to become independent researchers. The most rewarding part for him as an educator is seeing his students succeed.

Featured Publications

  • Genetic, maternal, and environmental variance components for body weight and length of Atlantic cod at 2 points in life. JJ Tosh, AF Garber, EA Trippel, JAB Robinson, Journal of animal science 88 (11), 3513-3521
  • Meta-analysis of genetic parameter estimates for reproduction, growth and carcass traits of pigs in the tropics. EC Akanno, FS Schenkel, VM Quinton, RM Friendship, JAB Robinson, Livestock Science 152 (2), 101-113
  • Estimation of genetic parameters for measures of calf survival in a population of Holstein heifer calves from a heifer-raising facility in New York State. L Henderson, F Miglior, A Sewalem, D Kelton, A Robinson, KE Leslie, Journal of dairy science 94 (1), 461-470 
  • Impact of genetic selection on management of boar replacement. JAB Robinson, MM Buhr, Theriogenology 63 (2), 668-678