Focus

Semen bank of italian local pig breeds

The modern pig industry relies on a relatively limited number of breeds,
common to all countries, which are used in the framework of highly
integrated breeding schemes. The evolution of improved pig populations
over the last decades has brought some performances close to their
biological or economic optimum, thus reducing their future importance in
the breeding objectives. Consequently, traits as meat and fat quality,
reproductive fitness, mothering abilities, adaptation to extensive
conditions are likely to receive more and more attention. The necessity
to develop alternative stocks for meeting a wide variety of
market/production conditions is recognized. This implies to give more
attention to "unconventional" germplasm, such as those provided by so-called minor or local breeds. Several local breeds are indeed presently
at risk of becoming extinct, a risk that accrues from their small
population size and from the lack of economic valorisation of their
potential. A rational policy of conservation of pig genetic resources is
needed. Today, conservation by maintaining breeds within their production
system - i.e. in situ - integrated with cryoconservation of gametes,
embryos and somatic cells - i.e. ex situ - is widely advocated.
Cryoconservation brings safety in the long term against the risk of
genetic erosion. Material stored is used as a back up in case genetic
problem or extinction occur.
In 1996 European Commission granted a project, entitled "European gene
banking project for pig genetic resources", for the conservation of pig
genetic resources in 4 European countries (France, Germany, Spain,
Italy). In this framework a conservation programme was carried out by
IBBA, ex IDVGA, in four Italian local pig breeds Cinta Senese, Casertana,
Mora Romagnola and Nera Siciliana. Objectives of the program were: i)
primary characterisation of the breeds, ii) evaluation of the
reproductive and productive performances, iii) collection of DNA for the
estimation of genetic distances among the breeds. The end-product of the
project was the creation of the "Semen bank of Italian local pig breeds".
For the first time in Italy a gene bank of animal genetic resources was
created for conservation. The semen bank was developed in collaboration
with a private AI company (ELPZOO spa), the Italian Breeder Association
(ANAS) and ConSDABI - Italian National Point FAO. A total of 30.835
straws of the four Italian local breeds have been stored in the semen
bank at December 2002. In the near future we plan to include in the bank
another breed (Calabrese), not yet represented, and to increase both the
number of straws and donors of the breeds already stored. IBBA
researchers are now participating at European level to the discussion on
the criteria to optimise number and material (semen or embryos) to store
and cost for the creation of the banks. At national level IBBA is
promoting the development of a legal framework for access to semen stored
in the bank and open the discussion on the creation of a National Gene
Bank for all the farm animals.

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