Germplasm Program coordinator Harvey Blackburn and technician Ginny Schmit
place germplasm samples into a liquid nitrogen tank for long-term storage.
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Federal Genebank Releases First Animal
Germplasm By David
September 9, 2004
The National Center for
Genetic Resources Preservation recently released animal germplasm from its
collection for the first time, to researchers with the
University of Missouri-Columbia.
The Fort Collins, Colo., center is run by the
Agricultural Research Service, the
U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief
scientific research agency. The University of Missouri scientists received
semen samples from three Holstein bulls. Holsteins are the main breed of dairy
cows raised in the United States. The researchers are trying to identify genes
associated with milk production and specifically requested these samples from
bulls born in 1957, 1964 and 1972.
Although Congress mandated in 1990 that the National Animal
Germplasm Program become part of the Fort Collins center, the program did not
receive its first animal germplasm samples until 2000, when 40 lines of chicken
germplasm arrived. Since that time, geneticist and center coordinator Harvey
Blackburn has collected germplasm from many varieties of chickens, cattle,
swine, sheep, goats and farmed fish such as catfish and rainbow trout.
Last year, Blackburn collected enough semen and embryos from
Holstein cattle to reintroduce the breed in the United States if that should
ever become necessary. The center preserves semen from 850 bulls and 150
embryos from 25 cows representing the diversity of the Holstein breed.
The center itself opened in 1958 as a long-term seed-storage
facility. The collection now includes more than 450,000 seed types. The main
objective of both the plant and animal sections is to serve as an "insurance
policy" in case different varieties of plants or animals are one day confronted
with genetic diversity problems.
The center staff not only store plant germplasm, they also
distribute it to researchers around the world. In addition, ARS scientists at
the center are researching better ways to preserve and store the plant and
Most of the center's plant samples are also maintained at ARS
germplasm repositories across the country. If something happens to any of
those, the Fort Collins center is there for backup. But the Fort Collins center
is the only USDA lab that preserves animal germplasm.