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Title: Rare Livestock Breeds: The impacts of diminishing genetic diversity on the future of agriculture

item Long, Julie

Submitted to: Animal Reproduction Science
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 5/31/2009
Publication Date: 6/30/2009
Citation: Long, J.A., Bongalhardo, D.C., Pelaéz, J., Saxena, S., Settar, P., O'Sullivan, N.P., Fulton, J.E. 2010. Rooster semen cryopreservation: Effect of pedigree line and male age on postthaw sperm function. Poultry Science. 89(5):966-973.

Interpretive Summary: Humanity depends on a tiny fraction of wild species that have been domesticated for production of food. Lack of information on the world’s livestock resources, such as what livestock breeds/populations exist, their geographic location and their genetic characteristics, is a major impediment to their sustainable use. Additionally, the genetic characterization of all remaining wild ancestral populations and closely related species is critical as these are the only remaining sources of putative alleles of economic values that might have been lost during domestication events. The development and use of reproductive biotechnology, in concert with genetic resource banks, is critical for the preservation and management of the remaining agricultural resources. It is particularly important to conserve the current livestock genetic resources because the ancestors of most of our existing livestock species no longer exist. Genetically diverse livestock populations provide a greater range of options for meeting future challenges, whether associated with environmental change, emerging disease threats, new knowledge of human nutritional requirements, fluctuating market conditions or changing societal needs.

Technical Abstract: The diversity in today’s livestock breeds has been shaped largely through the domestication of wild ancestral species and subsequent refinement by human selection for desired traits. Only a small fraction of the genetic diversity from the ancestral species survives in the domestic counterparts. A 2007 report released by UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) "The State of the World's Animal Genetic Resources" stated that nearly 70% of the world's remaining livestock breeds are found in developing countries, while the developed countries are characterized by a few highly productive breeds that thrive under intensive farming systems. The indigenous livestock breeds in developing countries are increasingly at risk as non-native breeds are imported to replace and/or cross-breed in an attempt to improve productivity. The First International Technical Conference on Animal Genetic Resources in Interlaken, Switzerland brought together more than 300 policy makers, scientists, breeders, and livestock keepers with the aim of developing a global plan of action for conserving animal genetic resources as its main outcome. In this paper, the impact of diminishing genetic diversity on livestock breeds and the development of genetic resource banks as insurance against the loss of livestock genetic diversity are considered.