A Call for Genebanks to Prevent Livestock Extinction

Many breeds of Asian, African and Latin American breeds of livestock are in danger of extinction, and researchers are calling for the development of genebanks to preserve these breeds and maintain diversity.

Published on: Sep 5, 2007

According to a report from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the over-reliance on a few breeds of livestock is causing the loss on average of one livestock breed per month. The Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) and the International Livestock Institute (IRLI) are calling for the rapid establishment of genebanks to conserve the genetic basis of farm animals for the livestock production systems around the world.

Carlos Seré, Director General of ILRI, told attendees of the First International Technical Conference on Animal Genetic Resources being held in Interlaken, Sweden this week, "In many cases we will not even know the true value of an existing breed until it's already gone. This is why we need to act now to conserve what's left by putting them in genebanks."

Seré outlined four steps to take to curb the loss of livestock genetic diversity to the opening session of the conference. He recommended incentives for farmers to maintain genetic diversity by keeping several different breeds of livestock and called for allowing greater mobility of breeds across borders, making it less likely that particular breeds would be wiped out by market conditions, natural disasters or disease outbreaks. He also suggested the use of "landscape genomics," using genomic and geographical mapping to predict which breeds would flourish in different environments and situations. But the main point he stressed was the need to save a wide variety of genetic diversity as insurance for the future by storing semen, eggs, and embryos of farm animals in genebanks.

"In the U.S., Europe, China, India, and South America, there are well-established genebanks actively preserving regional livestock diversity," says Seré. "Sadly, Africa has been left wanting and that absence is sorely felt right now because this is one of the regions with the richest remaining diversity and is likely to be a hotspot of breed losses in this century."