Fish and livestock are critical to communities, livelihoods, nutritional status, and economic development. Globally, the livestock sector employs 1.3 billion people and contributes up to 50% of global agricultural GDP, and animal protein intake by children has been linked to improved cognitive development. By 2025, global meat and animal protein demand is expected to grow by almost 40%. As part of the U.S. government’s global hunger and food security initiative, Feed the Future, USDA is building collaborative scientific partnerships with nearly a dozen organizations that will help U.S. and African goat producers enhance goat breeding and productivity. ARS, Virginia State University, African research partners and others will collect and share goat DNA and performance measures (i.e. milk yield, parasite resistance, growth rate) from more than 20 distinct goat populations from Africa, the United States, and other populations. Researchers will identify unique genes in each population and develop genetic preservation plans. Considering how breeds differ in performance traits like milk yield and parasite resistance, this project will associate those differences with the DNA, enabling farmers to more quickly breed healthier, more productive goats than by observing performance traits alone.
Modern tools relating DNA to performance traits across multiple breeds will mean better breeding decisions and healthier, more productive goats for a sustainable food supply. ARS and collaborators organized and held several workshops to enlist partners and develop a strategy for developing and deploying genomic and genetic tools. Samples from Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, Cameroon, Tanzania, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe were collected and are being genotyped using a genetic marker array developed by the International Goat Genome Consortium. Whole genome sequencing of a highly inbred reference animal is also underway on a third generation sequencing (PacBio) instrument, with the goal of 70x coverage achieved by early 2014. The genomic work will facilitate improvement of the SNP chip for diverse populations that can be used as a tool for breeding programs. Once the genomic tools are developed, the work on phenotype collection and DNA sampling of breeding candidates within goat populations will commence. This work will require close work with African partners. Specific implementation plans were discussed at a second workshop of the Goat Improvement Network in early 2013. Plans to incorporate African research partners and African small holders in Community Based Breeding Programs will be discussed in detail at the third AGIN workshop in Ethiopia in June 2014.