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This article appeared in the January/February issue of the ALBC newsletter. ALBC members receive 6 bi-monthly newsletters that contain articles about the breeds of livestock and poultry that we work to conserve as well as the people involved in these efforts. Members also receive an annual breeders directory that provides contact information for ALBC members who have breeding stock available, as well a list of products from these breeds that they offer for sale.

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From the January/February 2008 ALBC Newsletter:

Spanish DNA Study Reveals Surprises
by D.P. Sponenberg

Well over a year ago ALBC sent DNA samples from a number of different American breeds to Spain, in cooperation with a Spanish study of breeds with possible Spanish origins.  The DNA and the results were analyzed by Ámparo Martínez Martínez and Juan Vicente Delgado Bermejo, both of the University of Córdoba. The results are easiest to understand species by species.

The American breeds that were tested were Mulefoot and Guinea. Some Red Wattle samples were sent, but too few for an accurate analysis. Our breeds were compared to a host of Iberian and Latin American breeds, as well as with the Black Canary Island breed and the Duroc.

Mulefoot hogs were interesting, because one question that has been lingering for years is whether the history of purebred breeding was accurate or not. The results clearly indicate that the Mulefoot hogs of today are a remnant of a closed population – a pure breed! These also show close relationship to other Iberian-based breeds, which is logical because hogs with mule feet show up all the way from Argentina to Missouri – wherever the Spanish were, the mulefooted hogs are. The ones in the USA show very little genetic variation, which means that close management of the breeding is going to be essential to assure this breed a viable future.

Guinea HogThe Guinea Hog shows similar homogeneity, but is clearly an “outlier” that is not closely related to anything else that was tested. This indicates that the breed is unique, and that makes them all the more worth conserving. In the case of the Guinea Hog it will be especially useful to track down any source herds that have been overlooked in the past – these will greatly help to provide the genetic strength that the breed will need to move into the future.

The goat breeds that were sent included Arapawa Island (New Zealand), San Clemente Island (California), and Spanish goats from Texas. These were compared to a host of Iberian and Latin American breeds, as well as to the Alpine, Boer, Nubian, and Saanen.

Spanish GoatThe Spanish goat samples ended up being very close to other Iberian-based goat breeds. This is important, because it indicates that the history on these is accurate. They clearly need to be carefully conserved, as we have lost several herds in the last decades. Fortunately we still have many good herds remaining, and Leslie Edmundson is making great strides in a breed inventory based on previous ALBC work.

San Clemente goatThe San Clemente Island Goats are fascinating, indeed! They are remote from all other breeds tested, and the genetic structure of the population reflects a long history of isolation. They emerge as a conservation priority – along with a need for further comparisons among goat breeds to try to ferret out just exactly what their breed relationships are. Careful attention must be given to include every goat that is possible to track down – the breed needs all of these if it is to be viable into the future. This includes some rare variants (such as color) that might not be obvious to the casual observer that becomes confused by the superficial similarity of the majority of the breed.

Arapawa goatThe Arapawa goats are also clearly distinct, though not as remote from other breeds. These are clearly not Spanish, and the Old English connection may yet prove true. It is interesting that the Arapawa and San Clemente goats are so frequently the same color and yet have no relationship. Fortunately the results came in time to help avoid a planned island cull. This gives the population some breathing room for the development of a conservation plan that reflects the Arapawa Goat’s uniqueness along with the uniqueness of its island home.

The goats do provide more questions – such as breed relationships – and these will hopefully be answered more fully in the years to come. The short answer is that each of these is clearly a conservation priority.

Some DNA samples of Cattlemen’s Texas Longhorn Registry cattle (traditional Iberian types) were sent along, and these proved to be very close to Mexican cattle with an Iberian origin. This is hardly surprising, but very reassuring. Unfortunately no Pineywoods or Florida Cracker samples were sent, but hopefully the next effort will include these.

Horse samples were also sent, but the analysis for these is ongoing.

The summary is that DNA has proven several of our breeds to be unique. The reassuring fact is that many of these were assumed to be unique based on a phenotypic analysis. The goats, especially, benefited from this detailed look. The results will help to guide conservation decisions on into the future.


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