Genetic Diversity is Key to Creating Future Breeds

CANADA - A researcher with the University of Manitoba suggests maintaining the genetic diversity of Canada's cattle herd is key to ensuring the ability to develop breeds suited to changing environmental conditions or production practices.
calendar icon 5 May 2009
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University of Manitoba
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As part of a national initiative to catalogue Canadian cattle genetic resources scientists with the University Manitoba's Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada plan to characterize the genetics of the Canadienne for comparison to dairy and beef breeds more commonly found in Canada, writes Bruce Cochrane, University of Manitoba.

Associate professor animal genetics and breeding Dr. Gary Crow says we tend to use the one or two highest producing breeds and many of the other breeds get set aside increasing the risk of losing that genetic base.

Clip-Dr. Gary Crow-University of Manitoba

We find that many of our farm animals, just because of the selection process and because of the impact of certain popular breeders in a breed that there tends to be an impact of important foundation animals.

If only a few animals historically have an influence on the current population we tend to set ourselves up for higher levels of in-breeding so we want to look at this both in the rare breed and in our more common breeds just to compare the Canadienne and what's happening with it to some of the other breeds.

Traditionally we liked animals that were uniform because they produced all the same and they could be managed all the same way.

That's good in one way but it's bad in another way in that if they are so genetically alike that they may be susceptible to the same diseases and maybe take longer in the future to adapt to new situations.

So those are some risks.

Dr. Crow notes there are some small initiatives underway in Canada now but keeping the concept of the role of maintaining genetic diversity in agriculture forefront on people's minds is important.

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