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Animal Breeding and Genetics: Topics

Course Leader: Prof Rainer Roehe, Scotland's Rural College

Outline of principles of genetic improvement

This section of the module concentrates on general principles introducing strategies and design aspects of breeding programmes. These principles are elaborated by looking in depth at developing breeding objectives and assigning economic values to traits and identifying the factors affecting response to selection. Additionally the use of crossbreeding in livestock improvement is addressed. The importance of farm animals genetic resources is also explored.

Evaluation of genetic merit

The principles of genetic improvement are rooted in being able to identifying animals of high genetic merit. The approach to this is explored from first principles and then these are built into selection index theory. Finally BLUP (Best Linear Unbiased Prediction) breeding value estimation is introduced and extended to look at new modelling approaches such as the incorporation of random regression models.

New advances

The importance of genomics in livestock breeding is starting to come to the fore and this section of the course looks at how the rapidly increasing quantity of genomic information is being utilised in breed improvement. This includes the discovery of QTLs and the less direct use of QTLs through genomic selection. Both approaches harness genomic information through marker-assisted selection. Though great strides are being made in genomic applications, quantitative genetic theory is still developing and one of the major advances in this area has been in developing tools to manage genetic variation in selection and conservation programmes. These tools include the optimisation of selection schemes to maximise genetic gain whilst constraining inbreeding to a predetermined level. The advances made in all of these areas are considered in detail.

New traits

At the same time as developing new theory and tools for genetic improvement there is a constant pursuit of new breeding goal traits. The advances made in imaging technology and the understanding of meat quality coupled with the demands being brought by the market place have driven a large field of work in the genetic improvement of carcass and meat quality. A very new area where genetic improvement is being considered is in welfare and behaviour traits of livestock and here both technical and ethical questions are considered. Recently a great deal of interest has focused on livestock and climate change. The course considers their role in both contributing to GHG emissions and also the impact of climate change on livestock.

Breeding sector overviews

In order to put much of the content of the previous topics into context a series of livestock breeding sector overviews are given by specialists in those particular areas. These encompass lectures on ruminant livestock, pig and poultry breeding. These help to put much of the theory into context.


Animal Genetics Overview








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