Institut de Recerca i Tecnologia Agroalimentàries


IRTA is a research institute that takes part of the CERCA centers system of Catalonia (Spain). IRTA general objectives are to promote research and technological development in the area of agri-food, to facilitate the transfer of scientific advances and to evaluate its own technological advances whilst seeking the utmost coordination and collaboration between the public and private sectors. Within this scientific remit, the Animal Breeding and Genetics Program is a scientific team belonging to IRTA’s Area of Animal Production and Sustainability, working in Torre Marimon IRTA Centre, a 116 Ha agrarian estate encompassing historical buildings renovated to become a technologically advanced research center close to Barcelona.


Competence and main role(s) in the project

The Animal Breeding and Genetics Program of IRTA has skills in genetics, genomics, metagenomics and computational biology, and owns a relevant portfolio of National and European projects. IRTA participation in the project focuses on identifying how environmental and host-genetic variation modulate microbiota-related phenotypes in ruminants. IRTA is involved in WP4 (task 4.4) contributing analytic procedures to connect host genetic variation to microbiome, as well as to identify associations between microbial signatures and phenotypes, across worldwide ruminant breeds and production systems. Likewise, IRTA will also participate in the integration of multi-level omics data sources (host-phenotype, metaG, metaP and metaT) generated in WP2 and WP3.

Project staff

Raquel Quintanilla
Raquel Quintanilla is currently the head of the Animal Breeding & Genetics Program of IRTA. PhD in Animal Production in 1998, she has over 25 years of expertise in statistical genetics and genomics applied to the study of complex traits. Her main research lines address the improvement of production efficiency and animal robustness for more sustainable production systems. Coordinator of a Consolidated Research Group in “Management and Improvement of Animal Genetics Resources” and leader of five competitive research projects, she has co-authored 77 articles peer-reviewed scientific articles.
Yuliaxis Ramayo Caldas
Yuliaxis Ramayo Caldas is a veterinarian (Cuba, 2006), with a PhD in Animal Production (Spain, 2013). Shortly after the PhD defense, he gained a researcher position at INRAE (France), and currently holds a Ramón y Cajal contract at IRTA (Spain). He has made pioneering contributions to the field of livestock metagenomics contributing to the metagenome reference catalogues for porcine and bovine gastrointestinal tract. Additionally, methodological contributions have arisen from his research including an analytical approach to exploit pleiotropy and the crosstalk between gut bacteria and protists as significant contributors to host-microbiome interaction in pigs, and the development of two R packages to explore and integrate host phenotype, metagenomics, and other kinds of multi-omics layers. Since 2013, he has led three competitive projects on the identification of microbial biomarkers affecting methane emission in dairy cattle, and immunity and welfare in pigs. He has co-authored 60 peer-reviewed scientific articles, co-supervised four Ph.D. thesis, and collaborated with companies of the livestock sector.
Juan Pablo Sanchez
Juan Pablo Sanchez holds a senior researcher position at the Animal Breeding & Genetics Program. He got a PhD in Animal Science from the Polytechnic University of Valencia in 2006; thus, he has over 15-year research experience in the field of quantitative and statistical genetics, holding positions in different Spanish and abroad research institutions. At IRTA he has been coordinator of Feed-a-Gene project and has led three Spanish research projects. The research focus of those projects is the consideration of different features related with feed efficiency of monogastric species to better consider this trait within breeding programs. One of the studied elements has been the role of the gut microbiota on the feed efficiency and the assessment of its genetic determinism, on this topic he has supervised a PhD project. Beyond these activities on monogastric species, he has also conducted research projects on quantitative genetic and breeding issues in both cattle (dairy and beef) and sheep (dairy and meat). He has co-authored 65 articles peer-reviewed scientific articles.
Maria Ballester
Maria Ballester is a Doctor in Veterinary Medicine by the Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB). She is currently a senior researcher at the Animal Breeding and Genetics Program at IRTA and an associate professor in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences at UAB. She has a broad experience in animal genetics focused on immunogenetics, animal health, functional genomics, and bioinformatics. In recent years, she has established a research line about genetic determinism of global immunocompetence in pigs. Currently, her research focus extended to understand the role of immunometabolism and gut microbiota in modulating immunocompetence. Dr. Ballester has participated in 14 national projects (2 ongoing) and 7 international projects (4 EU projects). She is a current member of the European Project “Gene-SWitCH” (H2020-SFS-2018-2) focused on developing new genomic selection models using functional information. She has co-authored more than 70 peer-reviewed scientific articles, co-supervised seven PhD thesis (3 ongoing) and she is coinventor of one patent.
Miriam Piles
Miriam Piles PhD in Animal Breeding and Genetics. She obtained a postdoctoral contract in the Department of Animal Sciences of the University of Wisconsin, which she interrupted to join as a researcher the Animal Breeding Program of IRTA's. She has coordinated 7 projects of the National Plan of Research and one of the subprojects of a coordinated project. She also leaded an integrated action between IRTA and the National Institute of Agronomic Recherche. She participates or has participated in 3 European projects (“ECO-FCE” FP7, "feed-a-gene" and GEroNIMO H2020), being coordinator of a "Task" in two of them. Miriam has been a member of the steering committee of the "European Concerted Research Action" (COST Action TD1101: A collaborative European Network on Rabbit Genome Biology) and coordinator of "Working Group 2". She has been responsible reviewer and moderator of the "Animal Breeding and Genetics" section at the "11th World Rabbit Congress" held in Qingdao, China, in June 2016. She has been a moderator several times in the genetics sessions of various scientific congresses. Miriam has been the main supervisor of two doctoral theses. She has been responsible for various technology transfer contracts with genetic improvement companies, rabbit meat production farms, and artificial insemination centres. In 2013, she got a Marie Skłodowska-Curie fellowship at the Royal Veterinaty College, University of London. Her current research is focused in the improvement of feed efficiency in prolific species and also the application of high-throughput phenotypes and machine learning algorithms for increasing animal production performance and wellfare.