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Current status and future trends in pig and poultry breeding
G. Albers, B. Van Haandel, G. Veninga and N. Buddiger

The true beginnings of animal breeding were in the domestication of farm animal species thousands of years ago. Through human intervention many different breeds evolved for each species, but breeders only began to use scientifically based selection methods less than a century ago. Mendel discovered the working of single genes in the late nineteenth century, but industrial breeding for production traits is almost solely based on quantitative genetics theory, which was developed largely during the second half of the twentieth century. Industrial breeding of chickens and turkeys, and somewhat later, pigs, was initiated when pure breeding was discarded as a system to produce production animals upon the discovery of the beneficial effects of crossbreeding. Pyramid systems were developed in which the breeding company operates the selection program in pure lines kept in nucleus farms and then transfers superior genetic material(animals, semen) down into the production pyramid that serves to carry out the crossbreeding as well as the multiplication of the genetic stocks.


Today, selective breeding is largely based on quantitative genetic methods. These effectively regard the animal as a black box with many genes contributing to the expression of all traits under selection. Genomics is now opening this black box by elucidating the effect of single genes on the phenotypic expression of traits. The availability of the whole genome assembly of the chicken, and soon of the pig, has sparked the discovery of many genes with a large effect on production and quality traits. The use of SNPs as molecular markers in high throughput genotyping systems allows the large scale use of marker assisted breeding technologies. As breeding deals with identifying and exploiting the genetic basis of phenotypes, there is no doubt whatsoever that the use in breeding of knowledge of molecular genetics, i.e. molecular breeding, will totally change our current practices of selective breeding in pigs and poultry. In addition, the opportunity to direct the flow of animals and products with particular genetic properties is likely to also affect the role of the breeding industry in animal production.


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Article made possible through the contribution of Hendrix-Genetics.

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