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ARS Launches Animal Genetic Resource Program

By Kathryn Barry Stelljes
June 28, 2000

Chicken semen is the first animal germplasm at ARS’ National Animal Germplasm Program located at the ARS National Seed Storage Laboratory in Fort Collins, Colo.

The laboratory, opened in 1958, provides long-term storage of seeds and other reproductive plant material, known as germplasm. Today the location routinely houses nearly 360,000 samples from about 5,000 crop species and their wild relatives.

Germplasm--including semen, embryos and other tissues--from cattle, swine, poultry, sheep, goats and fish will also be stored at the site. As with the plants, this collection will serve as an insurance policy against loss of working collections stored at other locations.

Scientists and breeders use animal germplasm to locate genes that confer disease resistance, develop breeds that better withstand environmental conditions, or improve characteristics important to consumers.

Researchers with the new program are also developing a comprehensive database that will allow users to compare the primary characteristics between the animal breeds and to evaluate these breeds for genetic merit across varying environments and production systems. A warning component will alert researchers to the potential loss of a specific breed or genetic resource. A decision-making framework will help researchers and producers determine the best way to preserve that resource.

ARS’ Avian Disease and Oncology Laboratory in East Lansing, Mich., provided the chicken semen. Scientists there developed 34 breeding lines of chickens with varying degrees of genetic resistance to viral-induced lymphoid tumors.

The chickens were used to help researchers understand genetic resistance to tumors and to test the efficacy of Marek’s disease vaccines. The East Lansing laboratory began storing cryopreserved chicken semen in 1984 and will continue to maintain at least half of the samples from each line.

ARS is the chief research agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Scientific contacts: Harvey Blackburn, ARS National Seed Storage Laboratory, Fort Collins, Colo., phone (970) 495-3200, fax (970) 221-1427,; Larry Bacon, ARS Avian Disease and Oncology Laboratory, East Lansing, Mich., phone (517) 337-6828, fax (517) 337-6776,