Fish and livestock are critical to communities, livelihoods, nutritional status, and economic development. Globally, the livestock sector employs 1.3 billion people and contributes up to 50% of global agricultural GDP, and animal protein intake by children has been linked to improved cognitive development. By 2025, global meat and animal protein demand is expected to grow by almost 40%. As part of the U.S. government’s global hunger and food security initiative, Feed the Future, USDA is building collaborative scientific partnerships with nearly a dozen organizations that will help U.S. and African goat producers enhance goat breeding and productivity. ARS, Virginia State University, African research partners and others will collect and share goat DNA and performance measures (i.e. milk yield, parasite resistance, growth rate) from more than 20 distinct goat populations from Africa, the United States, and other populations. Researchers will identify unique genes in each population and develop genetic preservation plans. Considering how breeds differ in performance traits like milk yield and parasite resistance, this project will associate those differences with the DNA, enabling farmers to more quickly breed healthier, more productive goats than by observing performance traits alone.
Modern tools relating DNA to performance traits across multiple breeds will mean better breeding decisions and healthier, more productive goats for a sustainable food supply. So far ARS and collaborators organized and held an initial workshop to enlist partners and develop a strategy for developing and deploying genomic and genetic tools. Initial goat samples from Ethiopia, Kenya and Nigeria were collected and are being genotyped using a genetic marker array developed by the International Goat Genome Consortium. Whole genome sequencing of a highly inbred reference animal is underway at three ARS locations, with some assembly completed in early 2013. The genomic work will be completed in the first part of the second year and the SNP chip improved for diverse populations will be developed as a tool for breeding programs by midyear. Once the genomic tools are developed, the work on phenotype collection and DNA sampling of breeding candidates within goat populations will commence. This work will require close work with African partners. Specific implementation plans were discussed at a second workshop of the Goat Improvement Network in early 2013.