Understanding genetic diversity in small ruminants in Asia for better management of natural resources

Understanding genetic diversity in small ruminants in Asia for better management of natural resources Asia possess the greatest number of livestock breeds and is considered the home of the evolutionary origin of the major domestic species (sheep, goats, cattle and buffalo). Due to lack of breeding programmes or to indiscriminate crossbreeding, many local sheep and goat local breeds are at risk of extinction. The degradation of these genetic resources can lead to the loss of genetic diversity controlling advantageous characteristics (most prominently adaptability to harsh environments, better reproductive performance, and disease resistance) that could be used for well managed breeding strategies.

One of the obtacles to optimal utilization of these indigenous genetic resources is related to difficulties in identifying animals with the superior genotypes. Mapping of quantitative trait loci (QTL) and genes controlling simply inherited desirable characteristics and the organization and use of this information in selection and breeding programmes could provide considerable gains in productivity.

A Coordinated Research Project (CRP) "Gene-based Technologies in Livestock Breeding: Characterization of Small Ruminant Genetic Resources in Asia" (D3.10.25) has been started to tackle this issue by analyzing more that 100 sheep and goat breeds (which together represent the most important livestock species for the region, with almost 1 billion animals present on the continent), by applying nuclear and molecular tools for DNA analysis.

The first phase of the CRP aims to provide an opportunity to scientists from 8 countries (Iran, Pakistan, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Vietnam, China and Saudi Arabia) to acquire research capacity to define the genetic characteristics of local small ruminant breeds. The second phase will focus more specifically on genetic resistance of small ruminants to helminth parasites. This characteristic, which is known to exist in many indigenous breeds, is likely to be an important resource for ensuring sustainability of more higher intensified production systems.

This project complements programmes of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in the area of Animal Genetic Resources (AnGR) and will generate information that will be directly relevant to their on-going efforts to compile a global AnGR database.