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Poult Sci. 2006 Feb;85(2):210-5.

The National Animal Germplasm Program: challenges and opportunities for poultry genetic resources.

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National Animal Germplasm Program, National Centerfor Genetic Resources Preservation, ARS, USDA, Fort Collins, CO 80521-4500, USA.


In the United States, poultry genetic resources have consolidated because of economic pressures. Such consolidations can potentially jeopardize the poultry industry and the ability of research communities to respond to future challenges. To address the loss of genetic resources for all livestock and aquatic species, USDA established the National Animal Germplasm Program (NAGP) in 1999. Since the initiation of NAGP, population surveys have been conducted on nonindustrial chicken and turkey breeds. These surveys not only provide insight into breed status, but also serve as a benchmark for future comparisons. The survey results revealed that 20 chicken breeds and 9 turkey breeds were in various stages of being lost. The NAGP has initiated an ex situ repository for cryopreserved germplasm and tissue that already contains 59 chicken lines and 2,915 tissue samples. As the NAGP, along with its industry and university partners, continues developing the ex situ collection, there are research opportunities in cryopreserved tissue utilization and studies of genetic diversity. For cryopreserved tissues, several key research areas include improving the cryopreservation protocols for rooster and tom semen by using cryoprotectants other than glycerol and utilizing embryonic cells. Although surveys have been conducted on public research lines and rare breeds, there is a void in understanding the level of genetic diversity present in U.S. poultry populations. Therefore, an opportunity exists to perform a series of genetic diversity studies using molecular- based approaches. Such an evaluation can help clarify population differences between research lines and rare breeds and, thereby, facilitate conservation strategies. There appears to be growing consumer interest in poultry products derived from heritage breeds and/or poultry raised in nonindustrial production systems. Although the depth of such market trends is unknown, such an interest may provide an important niche for rare poultry breeds and, thereby, strengthen the genetic base.

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