19 January 1996

Locating profit-making genes

RESEARCH is under way at the Roslin Institute, Edinburgh, to locate genes specifically controlling traits of economic importance to the livestock industry.

Already genes affecting quantative traits have been mapped, said Dr Chris Haley.

These include growth rate and fatness in pigs. The gene controlling backfat contributed almost 5mm difference in backfat between the wild boar and Large White breeds. Another study located a gene affecting small intestine length which showed 1.8m (6ft) in breed difference, with the wild board being fatter and having a shorter small intestine.

Milk production performance has also been studied in Holstein Friesians. There is evidence of chromosome regions associated with effects of up to 8kg of extra protein and 300kg more milk.

Currently researchers are studying the major areas on a chromosome which contribute to beef against dairy performance. The work has long-term possibilities for furthering performance.

Charolais and Holstein Friesian are the favoured breeds for research and full results should be available in 10 years.

"A remaining question is how the average breeder can access the new tools for parentage testing, gene detection or marker-assisted selection," said Dr Haley.