KBBE-2009-1-1-03: Optimisation of methods to maintain farm animal biodiversity

Next generation methods to preserve farm animal biodiversity by optimizing present and future breeding options

NEXTGEN is the first project in the area of conservation genetics that proposes a comparative analysis of whole genome data at the intraspecific level. Therefore, the project will gather data on an unprecedented scale on all major types of genetic variation in the genome of cattle, sheep and goats. A high impact is expected, far beyond the farm animal scientific community mainly on conservation and evolutionary biology. More specifically, NEXTGEN will provide precise methodology for studying the biodiversity aspect of disease resistance and the relationships between genome and environment (landscape genomics).

NEXTGEN aims to provide the necessary tools for the exploitation of new generation genomic and reproductive technologies for Farm Animal Genetic Resources (FAnGR) characterization and conservation. A bioinformatics pipeline will be set to take advantage of whole genome sequencing and large scale marker genotyping, unprecedented in livestock species. Breeding programmes will be designed to exploit whole genome data to maximise genetic progress in livestock populations while maintaining diversity. Strategies will be developed for the optimal choice of animals for biobanking, to maximise neutral and functional genetic diversity in stored material.

New technologies offer opportunities to “think differently”. Accordingly, NEXTGEN proposes three very innovative approaches that will represent a breakthrough in the characterization, valuation and conservation of genetic resources, including potential application in industrial breeds.

 

  • Powerful spatially-explicit analysis of genome diversity will enable the identification of genomic regions associated with adaptation and disease resistance, key traits for sustainable breeding that are very difficult to investigate by linkage or association studies in natural or experimental populations. NEXTGEN establishes this new concept in two case studies: in Morocco, where adaptation in sheep and goats will be investigated in a region showing marked variation in environmental conditions, and in Uganda, where vector born diseases in well defined endemic areas have greatly affected cattle and the livelihood of local farmers.
  • A novel freeze-drying approach proposed for bio-banking cells and gametes at room temperature and hence at very low cost.
  • An evaluation of the potential of wild ancestors (sheep and goat) as reservoirs of genetic diversity for the respective domestic species. A case study will be carried out for sheep and goats in North-Western Iran.

The potential of NEXTGEN is maximised by the collation of an international and interdisciplinary team of top level researchers that are able to work across the borders of disciplines and rigorously explore these new ideas.