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Animal Breeding, Genetics, & Genomics

National Animal Genome Research Program (NAGRP)

The interest in how the genome (DNA) of any species is organized and expressed as traits in an animal has led to a new subdiscipline of genetics, called genomics. Available and rapidly improving technologies have allowed the examination of the genome of an organism as a whole, rather than one or a few genes at a time. Thus, the interest in genome research has focused on sequencing genomes of livestock and poultry to understand how various genes function and interact (functional genomics).

A spinoff from this knowledge is gene transfer (transgenesis), which has the potential to create new or altered strains of agriculturally important animals. These transgenic animals will have improved disease resistance, better growth rate and yield, improved reproduction, and altered cell and tissue characteristics for biomedical research and manufacturing. The program attempts to identify DNA sequences or quantitative trait loci (QTLs) associated with disease resistance or susceptibility and production traits in livestock and poultry species. These markers will be useful in selection strategies in most, if not all, livestock and poultry species.

The potential for agricultural genomics was officially recognized in the 1990 Farm Bill, which authorized a USDA National Genetics Resources Program. As a result, two new programs were proposed and established: a National Animal Genome Research Program (NAGRP) to be led by NIFA and a National Animal Germplasm Program to be led by ARS.

To help coordinate the U.S. genome mapping efforts in cattle, sheep, swine, and poultry species, the National Research Support Project (NRSP-8) was initiated in 1993. Recently, horses and aquaculture (fish and other water animal) species were added. This project facilitates greater communication among various interest groups through the Species Genome Committees. These committees foster exchange of materials, maintain genomics maps (both physical and genetic), establish databases for sharing and communicating information, and provide leadership in establishing research priorities at a national level.

Key partners in these efforts include Auburn, Texas A&M, Kentucky, Michigan State, Utah State, and Iowa State universities. The Iowa State University team leads database coordination efforts. NRSP-8 is an umbrella project to support and complement the activities of several multistate research projects. These projects primarily focus on species-specific objectives and depend on the resource and infrastructure support of NRSP-8. Examples of these multistate projects are:

Sequencing the Genome of Cow

This program will support high-throughput sequencing of the bovine genome. The goal is to contribute to a working draft sequence of (approximately six-fold sequence coverage) of 90 percent of the bovine genome. The outcome of draft sequencing projects is expected to include generation of high-quality sequence data, organization of the sequence reads into contiguous sequences (contigs), and deposition of all information into a publicly accessible, preexisting database. Additional information is available through:

Sequencing the Genome of Chicken

Among the domestic food animals as well as the model non-human organisms, the chicken is the first to be selected for genome sequencing. NIFA-supported scientists at Michigan State and Texas A&M universities are assisting the genome sequencing group in the Washington University Genome Center in chicken genome mapping and sequencing efforts. This project has enjoyed interagency cooperation between the USDA and NIH, which provided much of the funding support for this effort. For details, see the Chicken Genome Sequencing White Paper.

Chicken Genome Assembled

The National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) announces that the first draft of the chicken genome sequence has been deposited into free public databases for use by biomedical and agricultural researchers around the globe.

Sequencing the Genome of Pig

Advances in pig gene identification, mapping, and functional analysis have made rapid progress through the Pig Genome Coordination Program, funded through the NAGRP. For details, see the Pig Genome Sequencing White Paper.


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