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Spotlight   |  Summer 2007

Group dynamics

A new statistical method of determining genetic traits that influence social interactions among animals may make for more productive livestock.

man with fish
All plants and animals compete for limited resources. Purdue geneticist William Muir, shown with a domesticated tilapia, has discovered information that can help breed less aggressive animals that will be more productive.

Scientists from Purdue University, the Netherlands and England designed mathematical equations based on traits to choose animals that are more congenial in groups, says William Muir, a Purdue Department of Animal Sciences geneticist. The new method is a tool that could contribute both to animal well-being and to securing the world's future food supply, including permitting more animals to be domesticated.

The tool makes it possible to design selective breeding programs to effectively reduce competitive interactions in livestock. The method also aids in predicting how social interactions affect the natural evolution of species. Inherited competition among animals—for such things as food, space, territory and mates—has profound effects on performance, Muir says.

The scientists discovered that aggressiveness and all other traits affecting social interactions are inherited and can be estimated. They were also able to confirm more inherited trait variations that influence social interactions than could be identified with classic selection analysis.

 "This selection methodology is a roadmap to improving the breeding of domesticated animals," Muir says. "The tool also could allow us to domesticate more species as readily available food sources, such as cannibalistic shellfish and game fish."

Photo credit:  Tom Campbell


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