The impact of using old germplasm on genetic merit and diversity - A cattle breed case study

Sonia E. Eynard, Jack J. Windig*, Ina Hulsegge, Sipke Joost Hiemstra, Mario P.L. Calus

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


Artificial selection and high genetic gains in livestock breeds led to a loss of genetic diversity. Current genetic diversity conservation actions focus on long-term maintenance of breeds under selection. Gene banks play a role in such actions by storing genetic materials for future use and the recent development of genomic information is facilitating characterization of gene bank material for better use. Using the Meuse-Rhine-Issel Dutch cattle breed as a case study, we inferred the potential role of germplasm of old individuals for genetic diversity conservation of the current population. First, we described the evolution of genetic merit and diversity over time and then we applied the optimal contribution (OC) strategy to select individuals for maximizing genetic diversity, or maximizing genetic merit while constraining loss of genetic diversity. In the past decades, genetic merit increased while genetic diversity decreased. Genetic merit and diversity were both higher in an OC scenario restricting the rate of inbreeding when old individuals were considered for selection, compared to considering only animals from the current population. Thus, our study shows that gene bank material, in the form of old individuals, has the potential to support long-term maintenance and selection of breeds.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)311-322
JournalJournal of Animal Breeding and Genetics
Issue number4
Early online date29 May 2018
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2018


  • Ex-situ conservation
  • Gene bank
  • Genetic diversity
  • Genetic merit

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