Scientists find method to pick noncompetitive animals, improve production

Feb 12, 2007
Scientists find method to pick noncompetitive animals, improve production
All plants and animals compete for limited resources such as food, mates, sun and territory. William Muir, a Purdue geneticist, has found a quantitative method of determining inherited traits that affect social inactions. Using this information can help breed for less aggressive animals that will be more productive. Muir is shown with Shamu, a domesticated tilapia. Credit: Purdue Agricultural Communication photo/Tom Campbell

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

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

The tool makes it possible to design selective breeding programs to effectively reduce competitive interactions in livestock, he said. The method also aids in predicting how social interactions impact the natural evolution of species.

Muir and his colleagues write about the tool and its effectiveness in two papers published in the current issue of the journal Genetics. The journal's cover highlights the work with a photograph that Muir took of various colorful fish species interacting in a simulated ecosystem at the Monterey, Calif., aquarium.

"There is an inherited part of the associations among animals that has profound effects on performance," Muir said. "It's called competition. Animals compete for food, space, territory and mates."

In the first of the two papers, Muir and his colleagues explain the tool they developed to determine inherited traits that contribute to interactions among both individual animals and groups. The second paper refines the methodology and validates it by applying the tool to a flock of chickens.

In previous research, Muir showed that choosing less aggressive animals from a group for breeding purposes increases productivity. In the latest research, the scientists show that aggressiveness and all other traits affecting social interactions are inherited and can be estimated. They also found that by using the new tool they were able to confirm two-thirds more inherited trait variations that impact social interactions than could be identified with classical selection analysis.

"Now we have a tool to explain how species in nature evolved in response to each other," Muir said. "It can be applied across species and can tell us how social interactions developed in the past and will develop in the future between individuals and among various animal species.

"This is important because the most stable ecosystems are those that have multiple species that cohabitate. Natural selection is nature's way of keeping the ecosystem in balance."

Muir previously proved that animals living in groups and bred to be more passive sustain fewer injuries and are more productive than animals bred naturally. For instance, chickens bred to be less aggressive don't engage in as much pecking, which often causes severe injury and even death. The energy that animals used for negative behavior or to avoid such activities is then transferred to production.

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

Source: Purdue University

Explore further: Study on world's biggest animal finds more than one population in the southeastern Pacific

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Washington takes on Uber with its own taxi app

11 hours ago

Washington is developing a smartphone app to enable its taxis to compete head-on with Uber and other ride-sharing services, the US capital's taxi commission said Friday.

Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in living color

11 hours ago

Rosetta's OSIRIS team have produced a color image of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko as it would be seen by the human eye. As anticipated, the comet turns out to be very grey indeed, with only slight, subtle ...

EU clean air, waste laws at risk

12 hours ago

EU Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker faces a clash with lawmakers after leaked documents Friday revealed his plans to drop laws on clean air and waste recycling.

Recommended for you

'Hairclip' protein mechanism explained

3 hours ago

Research led by the Teichmann group on the Wellcome Genome Campus has identified a fundamental mechanism for controlling protein function. Published in the journal Science, the discovery has wide-ranging implications for bi ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.