When Dunedin animal scientist Bruno Santos travels to Australia next week for his graduation, it will be extra special.

Mr Santos is graduating from the University of New England, in Armidale NSW, with a PhD for his thesis on the value of information from commercial livestock in genetic improvement programmes.

He will also receive the university's Chancellor's Doctoral Research Medal, which recognises his project's application and the quality of the work.

Originally from Brazil, Mr Santos moved to Dunedin in 2012 to work for agribusiness consulting company AbacusBio.


Mr Santos had previously collaborated with the company on business development and technical projects in Brazil.

After completing a bachelor of animal science degree and a master's degree in animal nutrition and production, Mr Santos ran his own company in Brazil providing technical advice, strategic planning and genetic analysis services to agribusiness companies, farmers and livestock breeders.

Deciding they wanted a better quality of life, he and his wife sold the business and also their sheep and cropping farm and moved to New Zealand.

The project from which his thesis was derived began about three and a-half years ago when discussions started with various parties on what sorts of benefits could be generated if there was information from commercial livestock, he said.

The idea came from AbacusBio and talks with Beef + Lamb New Zealand Genetics and Sheep CRC (Co-operative Research Centre for Sheep Industry Innovation) in Australia also revealed interest from those organisations.

He was keen to do a PhD as he had not done any further formal education outside Brazil. The AbacusBio team was also keen for him to do it.

The University of New England was keen to take the project on board and offered him a scholarship.

Mr Santos remained employed at AbacusBio and it became one of his priority projects, while also working on some other projects.


Beef + Lamb New Zealand Genetics was the main funder of the project in New Zealand, while Sheep CRC funded it in Australia.

He worked with large-scale properties in both New Zealand and Australia and it was a very practical approach, he said.

As a result, a model was proposed and some of those farming operations were now using it. Beef + Lamb New Zealand Genetics was now providing support for a pilot project using the findings.

Trying to complete a PhD while working and also with a young family was not easy and he was grateful for the support of colleagues at AbacusBio, Mr Santos said.

Some "really cool" projects were coming through the business, including in Africa and Europe, and they were all very impactful projects.

He had been spending time working with beef cattle, especially reviewing the breeding objectives for the American Angus Association.

There was also a large project in Ethiopia involving selection and improvement in sheep and goats for community-based breeding programmes.

The findings from his PhD were already applicable to some of those projects and he had also made presentations on the topic at some major conferences.

One of the reasons that AbacusBio was so successful was that it bridged science and business and there was a lack of that sort of knowledge worldwide, he said.

The company also knew how to communicate with the industry and one of the reasons New Zealand did so well at that was because of institutes such as Beef + Lamb New Zealand and Beef + Lamb New Zealand Genetics. In many countries, such institutes did not exist, he said.