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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

National Animal Germplasm Program (NAGP)
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Principal Investigators

Harvey Blackburn (Lead)
Phillip Purdy

Project Summary

NAGP research objectives will strengthen the genetic diversity of the collection; improve cryopreservation procedures, provide potential users with comprehensive information about the collection through the GRIN database and enable greater efficiency in reconstituting populations.   A multidisciplinary approach using quantitative and molecular genetics, reproductive biology, cryopreservation, awareness and evaluation of live animal populations, and information systems is needed to accomplish NAGP research objectives.  Objectives are based on customer and stakeholder comments received at a 2004 Discover Conference, sponsored by the American Dairy Science Association and a 2006 Workshop about ARS National Program 101 (Animal Genetic Resources). [Animal Collections]

Objective 1: Further develop and expand a scientifically based germplasm and DNA/tissue collection.

  • Continue to develop germplasm collections and associated information across species.
  • Evaluate, refine and implement pedigree clustering approach for germplasm collection.
  • Pursue approaches to compare collection to in-situ populations using quantitative and/or molecular approaches.
  • Develop collections of DNA and/or tissues containing DNA and associated information.

Objective 2: Further develop the animal section of the GRIN network.

  • Develop database information system that documents the germplasm/tissue collection (Version 2) and has multi-location capacity.
  • Expand descriptors for all species as defined by species committees, and substantially increase data collection efforts.

Objective 3: Develop methods for population regeneration: Computationally determine approaches for population regeneration and management.

Objective 4: Improve cryopreservation methods for tissues.

  • Develop predictors of semen tolerance to cryoexpsoure and correlate with post-thaw semen viability.
  • Develop procedures for collection and freezing of small ruminant and/or beef oocytes.
  • Determine optimal semen cryopreservation diluents and freezing methodologies.

Need for Research 

Nearly 45% of mammalian and avian breeds in North America are imperiled and another 13% have already been lost in the US according to a UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report in 2000.  This attrition of genetic diversity can lead to American products being less competitive in global markets.

The progressive loss of genetic diversity in all livestock species results from industrial consolidation, combined use of highly effective genetic selection, reproductive technologies, and changing economic conditions.  Intense selection for economically desirable traits, when practiced to extremes, results in genetic abnormalities or genetic combinations that lower viability and profitability.  Ameliorating this situation requires availability of alternative genetic stocks.  The 2001 outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease in Europe demonstrated how easily genetic resources can be lost and subsequently lead to long and short term economic loss. Diverse genetic resources are needed to develop resistant lines to emerging diseases. A national animal germplasm repository will allow the US to respond quickly to threats to our production systems.  Reserves of genetic material for reintroduction to industry provide protection to American producers and consumers.

Conservation of animal genetic resources also provides breeders with the resources to structure livestock populations in a way that meets the growing global demand for food and fiber.  More efficient production systems and new livestock products relies on available genetic diversity among and across breeds.

Potential Benefits

A reserve of cryopreserved germplasm will be available for public and private breeders and other researchers to improve management and productivity of American livestock and to ensure sufficient genetic diversity is available to reconstitute lost populations.  Repository collections provide a ready source of research material to enhance knowledge about disease resistance, reproductive biology, growth and other traits that will be used to enhance productivity and management tools.  Collateral information gathered while collecting germplasm samples will be used to locate breeds and quantify breed resources and productivity within the US. This information will be accessible via the Internet to guide decisions.  Hence, the diverse beneficiaries of NAGP's effort include livestock breeders, researchers reconstituting populations and performing various types of molecular studies, and all American, who need a healthy and secure food supply. 

Anticipated Products

  • A ready supply of preserved germplasm for all major livestock and aquatic species.
  • An information system that inventories preserved germplasm (and other tissues), phenotypic parameters, census data on live populations
  • A national system comprised of ARS, university and industry collaborators to prioritize, facilitate and guide collection and information efforts.
  • A more comprehensive understanding of genetic diversity within US breeds and within the NAGP collection
  • Improved cryopreservation protocols that expand NAGP's capacity to collect and store germplasm and tissues.

Last Modified: 8/13/2016
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