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Germplasm collection key to ensuring healthy animals

The collection of germplasm at the Fort Collins, Colo., facility maintained by the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) assures a future with genetic diversity of agriculturally significant animals, especially dairy and beef cattle, chickens, sheep, swine and even bison, elk and fish.

“As we learn more about genes and gene function, it becomes not only a backstop for the industry, but a tool for the research community,” says Harvey Blackburn, NAGP coordinator. For example, ARS researchers have used frozen bull semen to genotype prominent bulls that have sired dairy cattle. This information, combined with milk production comparison data gathered from the cows, has been used to improve dairy cattle breeding programs.

Reduce production costs

ARS researchers in Miles City, Montana, store and use their cattle germplasm to help their efforts to reduce beef production costs, as demand for corn grows with the need for ethanol and human food. Young female cattle, for instance, can be bred for lower target weights, consuming 27 percent less feed over the winter. The program might reduce costs of each replacement heifer by more than $31. The germplasm collections provide information as well as breeding material for animal producers, and they play an important role in protecting and improving agricultural livestock.

Prevent disease in poultry

In Michigan, researchers worked with DNA-based technology to develop 40 distinct lines of chickens at the Avian Disease and Oncology Laboratory (ADOL) in East Lansing. Those studies have revealed tools and techniques used in the diagnosis, control and prevention of diseases such as virus-induced tumors in poultry. The unique and genetically well-defined lines have been critical to significant research projects at ADOL and at similar laboratories in the United States and overseas, and have increased understanding about genetic resistance to disease.

Source: ARS

Natalie Berkhout

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