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ARS Preserves Genetic Material for Key Cattle Breed

By David Elstein
February 3, 2003

Semen and embryos sufficient to reintroduce Holstein dairy cattle in the United States have been acquired by the Agricultural Research Service. This genetic "insurance," available to protect the country's primary dairy cattle breed, is one example of how ARS is preserving valuable genetic material for plants and animals.

Animal scientist Harvey Blackburn, at the ARS National Center for Genetic Resources Preservation (NCGRP) in Fort Collins, Colo., led a group of researchers in acquiring Holstein germplasm from as far back as the 1960s. The collection contains preserved semen from approximately 470 bulls and embryos from 25 cows.

The germplasm can also be used for genetic marker experiments and to minimize potential genetic problems. During the past decade, the dairy industry has become concerned about genetic diversity in Holsteins, and this collection should alleviate those concerns.

The germplasm came from ABS Global, Select Sires, Accelerated Genetics, the University of Minnesota, Virginia Tech University and Iowa State University.

Blackburn also is working with the ARS Germplasm and Gamete Physiology Laboratory in Beltsville, Md., on storage and transportation methods for boar semen. And he's acquiring more species for the germplasm collection, as well as increasing the number of breeds representing species already in the collection. NCGRP scientists collect and study germplasm from swine, dairy and beef cattle, poultry, aquacultured species and small ruminants.

The National Animal Germplasm Program is just one aspect of NCGRP activities. Another part is the Seed Viability and Storage Research Unit, which documents and preserves seeds for long-term storage, determines seed quality and distributes seeds to researchers. In addition, the center's Plant Germplasm Preservation Research Unit conducts research on how plant genebanks worldwide can collect and store plant germplasm more efficiently.

To learn more about the center, see the February 2003 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.

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