Molecular identification of livestock breeds: a tool for modern conservation biology

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Abstract

Global livestock genetic diversity includes all of the species, breeds and strains of domestic animals, and their variations. Although a recent census indicated that there were 40 species and over 8000 breeds of domestic animals; for the purpose of conservation biology the diversity between and within breeds rather than species is regarded to be of crucial importance. This domestic animal genetic diversity has developed through three main evolutionary events, from speciation (about 3 million years ago) through domestication (about 12000 years ago) to specialised breeding (starting about 200 years ago). These events and their impacts on global animal genetic resources have been well documented in the literature. The key importance of global domestic animal resources in terms of economic, scientific and cultural heritage has also been addressed. In spite of their importance, there is a growing number of reports on the alarming erosion of domestic animal genetic resources. This erosion of is happening in spite of several global conservation initiatives designed to mitigate it. Herein we discuss these conservation interventions and highlight their strengths and weaknesses. However, pivotal to the success of these conservation initiatives is the reliability of the genetic assignment of individual members to a target breed. Finally, we discuss the prospect of using improved breed identification methodologies to develop a reliable breed-specific molecular identification tool that is easily applicable to populations of livestock breeds in various ecosystems. These identification tools, when developed, will not only facilitate the regular monitoring of threatened or endangered breed populations, but also enhance the development of more efficient and sustainable livestock production systems.

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