GENOMIC-RESOURCES will contribute to the education of a new generation of scientists in cutting edge approaches to the characterization, evaluation, management and conservation of Farm Animal Genetic Resources (FAnGR). Visiting researchers will work and learn novel tools and methods offered by recent advances in molecular technologies, statistical and econometric approaches, GIScience and integrated data analysis. Eight participants from eight different countries will deliver a structured interdisciplinary research and training programme, covering different branches of genetics and breeding, animal physiology and husbandry, socio-economics and geographic analysis. Research will address three main themes: i) characterization; ii) economic evaluation; and iii) exploitation and conservation of FAnGR. Training will be organised at European level through Summer schools and Workshops addressing specific interdisciplinary topics. Emphasis will be placed on training future research leaders to design and manage research programmes, by teaching complementary skills, from presentational skills to project management. Visiting researcher mobility will include four months in one of the partner institutions.
BACKGROUND AND STATE OF THE ARTS
Biodiversity forms the basis of life on earth. The Convention on Biological Diversity states that the contracting Parties are “conscious of the intrinsic value of biological diversity” and “conscious also of the importance of biological diversity for evolution and for maintaining life sustaining systems of the biosphere.” They affirm that “the conservation of biological diversity is a common concern of humankind” and that they are “aware that conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity is of critical importance for meeting the food, health and other needs of the growing world population”.
For about 10000ys, farmers have been managing their livestock in a sustainable way, leading to animals that are well adapted to local conditions. From 200ys ago, the situation started to change, with the rise of the concept of breeds. All animals from the same breed were selected for the same visible characteristics, and crossing of animals with different phenotypes was seriously reduced. A few decades ago, such selection pressures were increased again with intensive production, with little emphasis on the preservation of genetic diversity. Many industrial breeds now suffer from the consequences of genetic drift and inbreeding, with effective population sizes sometimes falling below 50. With the development of these industrial breeds, for economic reasons, farmers have abandoned traditional breeds, with many becoming extinct as a consequence. This means that genetic resources of livestock are under threat in developed countries. It is now universally accepted as being vital to promote sustainable management of these resources, by in situ preservation of endangered breeds, by selection programs that will restore genetic diversity in industrial breeds, and by protecting populations that might provide useful future genetic resources. The situation is even more alarming for developing countries, where the local breeds adapted to local environments and diseases are being replaced by industrial breeds.
Depletion of FAnGR has become a major concern for international research and policy (FAOSTAT, 1999; Hammond and Leitch, 1996). Conservatively, at least 28% of farm animal breeds became extinct, rare or endangered during the 20th century (World Conservation Monitoring Centre, 1992). Currently, a substantial number of autochthonous but relatively slow-producing breeds (80 cattle, 46 pig, 47 sheep, 25 goat) are declining and are threatened to some degree, with a number being classified as ‘critical’. These numbers are a low estimate, due to a general lack of awareness of the situation in many countries. However, in the most marginal areas, FAnGR are considered to be essential for viable and sustainable land use (Rege and Gibson, 2003).
GENOMIC-RESOURCES is timely. In September 2007 at Interlaken, Switzerland, country delegates from all over the world adopted a global plan for action for conserving indigenous animal genetics resources (FAO 2007). At this meeting the notion emerged that livestock diversity is decreasing at an accelerated pace, with many breeds lost throughout the world, that the real endangerment status of many livestock populations is “unknown”, particularly in developing countries, and that local livestock diversity represent a unique resources for livestock productivity of the developing world, a major pathway out of poverty.
Scientific research into genetic diversity has followed closely the rapid advanced in molecular genetics. Studies of mitochondrial DNA, microsatellite DNA profiling and Ychromosomes have revealed many details on the process of domestication, on the diversity retained by breeds and by relationships between breeds. However, with the available technology we see only a small part of the genetic information and many essential questions remain unanswered. Therefore, the advent of new technologies is most timely. High-throughput SNP (single-nucleotide polymorphism) genotyping is now rapidly gaining grounds and will give a more detailed picture of the genetic diversity. Meanwhile, we are witnessing a next revolution in genetics: the development of techniques of sequencing affordably complete genomic sequences, for which several alternative technologies have passed already the proof-of-principle stage.
It is essential that the need to manage genetic diversity in livestock populations is brought to the attention of young scientists, the general public and policy makers, to promote the establishment of appropriate conservation programs, It is also important to disseminate new technologies for measuring phenotypic traits, new molecular tools permitting low cost large scale genomic analysis, and new statistical and computational tools that are being developed. Research collaboration and dissemination through workshops, conferences, meetings and exchange visits are needed to equip young researches to make full use of these opportunities, to continue the development of innovative ideas and new strategies for the evaluation, exploitation and conservation of FAnGR to reverse a trend that will affect future human generations. It is as well important that GENOMIC-RESOURCES has a worldwide impact through dissemination of the research, which will be achieved by involving International Organizations like FAO, ILRI and EAAP, and exchange visit of young researchers and experts originating from within and outside the EU.
The core aim of GENOMIC-RESOURCES is to train young scientists and collaborate with scientist into the use of innovative and effective strategies for characterization, evaluation, and conservation of FAnGR, exploiting the options provided by new technical, molecular, computational and statistical methods.
Four years, from June 2010 to May 2014