Livestock Improvement

The main applications of new biotechnologies to livestock are in genetic improvement, reproductive technologies (e.g., fertility monitoring and embryo transfer), and animal health (through diagnostics and vaccines). These new technologies speed the reproductive process, thus allowing more generations to be produced over the life of an animal. They also enable the more efficient selection of breeds with increased productivity.

Phenotypes of commercial livestock breeds that are highly productive under intensive production systems in temperate climates do not realize their production potential in subtropical or tropical production systems. Dietary constraints, inability to adapt to local environments, and susceptibility to disease are among the factors responsible.

Advances have been made in overcoming the genotypic constraints to increased production efficiency. Improvements have been made both in genetic characterization at the molecular level, and in technology to rapidly expand the available numbers of improved genotypes. Linkage maps of sufficient resolution for use in breeding improvement schemes based on marker-assisted selection are now available in Australia, US, and Europe for cattle, pigs, poultry, and fish. These maps are being refined, and the process of identifying molecular markers for desirable biological and commercial traits is under way. In several cases, these approaches are already being applied in the identification of elite sires.

The application of comparative genomics between breeds and species may mean that such selection strategies for desirable traits in one species/breed may be more easily adapted to that of other species/ breeds. However, the high cost of genomics presently limits the technology to lucrative markets, breeds, species, and production environments in the industrial world.

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