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Basque thesis investigates wide diversity within certain ovine, bovine and equine breeds

This release is available in Spanish.

Fernando Rendo, biologist at the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU), has developed genetic-molecular tools, with the intention of completing the genealogical tree of certain ovine, bovine and equine breeds in the Basque Country Autonomous Community (CAPVEAE) and Navarre. Concretely, he opted for numerous microsatellites (a type of DNA sequence) and certain SNPs (a kind of variation in the DNA sequence) that can act as biomarkers for characterising genetic structures. With these he constructed panels that were applied to various sheep breeds (Latxa, Carranzana, Sasi Ardi and Navarra), cattle breeds (Pyrenean, Betizu, Terrea and Monchina) and equine breeds (Pottoka, Jaca Navarra, EuskalHerriko Mendi Zaldia and Burguete).

With these panels as a base tool, Mr Rendo undertook his doctoral thesis, analysing the genetic population of these local breeds. Moreover, he was particularly interested in breeds in danger of extinction, which is why he studied the efficacy of some of the conservation plans carried out to date, and has put forward proposals for future programmes. The work is entitled Genetic and forensic populations in ovine, bovine and equine breeds in the Basque Country Autonomous Community and Navarre.

Great variety

Mr Rendo emphasised the great intrapopulational genetic variability found amongst these breeds under study. An example of this is the heterogeneity shown by the Latxa sheep breed given that, in the thesis, three populational groups were identified: Latxa Cara Negra of the CAPVEAE, Latxa Cara Rubia and Latxa Cara Negra of Navarre. The great diversity within the ovine, bovine and equine breeds studied is due to the handling used in the western Pyrenean zone. This handling is based on crossing animals from flocks that are close to each other, thus generating homogeneous and isolated groups of others over very small geographical areas. Thus, numerous ecotypes, varieties and even breeds arise over a relatively small terrain.

The thesis concludes that this high variability is especially positive for conservation programmes for breeds in danger of extinction, such as Sasi Ardi, Betizu, Terrea, Monchina, Pottoka and Jaca Navarra. Amongst these, Mr Rendo highlights the diversity found in the semi-wild Sasi Ardi sheep breed, which is why he considers it an important animal genetic resource to be conserved. Concretely, he proposed making use of the non-standard Sasi Ardi population in future programmes of conservation, given that it provides considerable variability and is not genetically very different from the flocks classified as pure.

In the case of the Betizu breed of cattle, this explains why, in recent years, its genetic structure has suffered a reduction. In order to rectify this, a redistribution of the males amongst its flocks is proposed. Also put forward is the incorporation of non-standard populations (Betizu Mix) into the conservation programme, in the same way as the Sasi Ardi sheep.

Together with the Pottoka breed of horse, Mr Rendo highlights the conservation programme undertaken over the past 15 years. The thesis showed that, thanks to the correct handling and management of the animals, the breed maintained its high initial genetic variability.

Also for genetic-forensics

The biomarkers developed in this work were not only valid for genetic-populational analysis, but also for genetic-forensic analysis. The thesis also notably showed the effectiveness of the panel of sheep microsatellites. For example, it explains why, thanks to these biomarkers, a correct assignation of Sasi Ardi animals was able to be made, differentiating them from the surrounding Latxa Cara Rubia breed. Moreover, the correct assignation of a Latxa Cara Rubia sheep to its flock of origin has also been achieved, and which has helped in clarifying a forensic case of poisoning of protected wild species.


Contact: Amaia Portugal
Elhuyar Fundazioa

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