[Thanks to Dr. Hanotte, Kenya, for this well-written contribution about the potential contribution of biotechnology and molecular markers to the study of current livestock biodiversity and of the wild ancestry of today's domestic breeds.......Moderator]
I have read with interest the various comments these latest weeks regarding the use of biotechnology in the developing world. The importance to genetically characterise indigenous livestock was sometimes briefly mentioned (DNA fingerprinting, microsatellite, etc.). I have been working for the last 5 years at the International Livestock Research Institute in Nairobi being particularly involved in the molecular genetic characterization aspect of the ongoing livestock biodiversity project at ILRI.
In term of livestock biodiversity, the developing world is in a more enviable position than the so-called developed world. It could be potentially a gold mine for the developing world if properly studied and evaluated. Biotechnology and molecular markers in particular can definitively help here. In this context, I would like to emphasize one particular aspect which is now clearly emerging following the use of molecular markers:
Recent molecular results e.g in cattle, sheep and pigs indicate that our current breeds often originate from separate domestication events and/or that several ancestral species have contributed to the current genetic pool of the species. A genetic bottleneck has most likely followed all domestication events. In this context, the identification of the ancestral species contributing to the genetic pool of a species is essential. Countries still hosting population of the wild ancestors are in a unique position. Conservation, valuation and exploitation of this wildlife component should be a top priority for the hosting country (e.g Yak and bactrian camel in China, Asian buffalo population, South American Camelidae etc). Similarly the identification and the conservation of breeds at, or nearby, the center of origins, might often display most the genetic variation. Most of the current livestock breeds of the developing world are a mixture of different genetic influences. Molecular markers are providing us with the tools to unravel these influences. The identification of these ancestral components is the essential background against which an individual country livestock biodiversity can be understood.
To understand at a continental/worldwide level the genetic diversity of a species is clearly a task beyond the capability of a single country. Our experience with African cattle, however, indicates that it can be nevertheless a very realistic task. It took us roughly five years to understand globally what are the genetic backgrounds of the current indigenous African cattle. The keys points were the full collaborations of individual African countries allowing their livestock to be sampled, and the molecular data being produced and analysis in a single research center (which being international has the advantage of not being tied up to a specific country). The results are that, today, Africa and Europe are the only continents where a global understanding of a livestock biodiversity species is becoming available. Individual African countries have now the required backgound to value their own specific genetic resources (which could be done in theory in a relatively cheap way e.g. PhD studenship).
The message is that international cooperation in the genetic characterisation of indigenous livestock is essential if individual countries want to value their own resources. There might otherwise be very little to gain from country-isolated initiatives.
Dr. Olivier Hanotte
Livestock Genomics and Genetics
International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI)
P.O. Box 30709
Tel: +254 2 630743 ext: 4708
Fax: +254 2 631499
Web site: http://www.cgiar.org/ilri/
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