En­hanc­ing Germplasm Re­sources of Livestock and Poul­try

Beijing (English) - - CONTENTS - Trans­lated by Wang Wei, edited by Mark Zuiderveld, pho­tos by Li Xiaoyin

Known as a “life bank” for livestock and poul­try, this mod­ern “Noah’s Ark” is the es­teemed Livestock and Poul­try Germplasm Re­sources Bank of Bei­jing Mu­nic­i­pal­ity.

Ac­cord­ing to the Bible, Noah built an ark to save his fam­ily and all the world's an­i­mals from a flood. No ev­i­dence of Noah's ark has been found. But in Bei­jing, such an ark for con­tin­u­a­tion of species has ex­isted for years. In a room of the An­i­mal Hus­bandry Sta­tion of Bei­jing Mu­nic­i­pal­ity, sam­ples of em­bryos, blood and DNA of livestock and poul­try are stored in liq­uid ni­tro­gen tanks.

The pur­pose of stor­ing th­ese ge­netic ma­te­ri­als is so they can be used by ad­vanced biotech­nol­ogy to re­vive the species if they were ex­tinct. Known as a “life bank” for livestock and poul­try, this mod­ern “Noah's Ark” is the Livestock and Poul­try Germplasm Re­sources Bank of Bei­jing Mu­nic­i­pal­ity, or the Cen­tre of Livestock and Poul­try Germplasm Re­sources in North­ern China of China Na­tional Genebank.

Germplasm Pro­tec­tion

More than three hun­dred years ago, res­i­dents near Bei­jing's And­ing­men and Desh­eng­men neigh­bour­hoods be­gan to raise a chicken with a large crest, feath­ered legs and feet and feath­ers that grow around its beak, called Bei­jing Youji, known as Bei­jing Fatty Chicken.

This chicken were pop­u­lar among lo­cals for its ten­der meat. Later, it drew at­ten­tion from

chefs of the im­pe­rial kitchen and be­came a course of Em­press Dowa­ger Cixi (re­gency: 1861–1908) of the Qing Dy­nasty (1644–1911). The chicken gained con­sid­er­able fame and was called “the Yel­low Chicken of Chi­nese Im­pe­rial Court”, and also be­came a com­mon in­gre­di­ent of cour­ses at the state ban­quet for cel­e­brat­ing the found­ing of the Peo­ple's Re­pub­lic of China in 1949.

But the fa­mous chicken neared ex­tinc­tion. Af­ter the 1970s, for­eign chicken breeds with rapid growth, high yield egg pro­duc­tion, low cost of feed­ing were in­tro­duced to China, bring­ing a great chal­lenge for Bei­jing Fatty Chicken to sur­vive be­cause its egg pro­duc­tion was a mere 120 per year. Farm­ers be­gan to raise for­eign breeds in­stead of chick­ens, which led to its rapidly de­clin­ing sup­ply and by the 1980s the chick­ens came close to not be­ing raised by Bei­jing farm­ers and kept on a farm for breed con­ser­va­tion.

Favour came in 1999 and the chicken's den­sity of pop­u­la­tion grad­u­ally grew af­ter the Re­search and De­vel­op­ment Cen­tre of Bei­jing Fatty Chicken was set up. New breeds of chick­ens with high qual­ity were bred based on re­searches on ge­netic breed­ing tech­nolo­gies. This chicken has now been in­tro­duced to most parts of China, but sub­ur­ban Bei­jing still boasts the ma­jor­ity of its pop­u­la­tion. Germplasm pro­tec­tion en­abled the chick­ens to re­vive on the brink of ex­tinc­tion. Other Bei­jing's breeds in­clud­ing Bei­jing Duck and Bei­jing Black (Pek­ing Black, a breed of do­mes­tic pig) are also key ob­jects of germplasm pro­tec­tion.

Germplasm re­sources are non­re­new­able. An­cient lo­cal breeds, new breeds and ge­netic ma­te­ri­als can all be in­cluded in the scope of germplasm pro­tec­tion. China pos­sesses the world's most abundant ge­netic re­sources of livestock and poul­try. There are 545 lo­cal breeds of livestock and poul­try that have been dis­cov­ered in China, ac­count­ing for about one sixth of the world's to­tal amount of ge­netic re­sources.

But re­sources of China's livestock and poul­try have been de­clin­ing. For ex­am­ple, the pro­tec­tion of Bei­jing's lo­cal breeds faces chal­lenges due to the city's in­creas­ing pop­u­la­tion and rapid ur­ban de­vel­op­ment, grad­ual re­duc­tion of the lo­cal breeds' pro­duc­tion and in­tro­duc­tion of for­eign breeds.

Zheng Ruifeng, di­rec­tor of the An­i­mal Hus­bandry Sta­tion of Bei­jing Mu­nic­i­pal­ity, said, “Bi­o­log­i­cal re­sources, are a strate­gic re­serve and the same as hu­man re­sources.” In 2013, af­ter re­forms, the Bei­jing An­i­mal Hus­bandry and Vet­eri­nary Sta­tion was di­vided into the Bei­jing An­i­mal Hus­bandry Sta­tion and Bei­jing An­i­mal Dis­ease Con­trol Cen­tre. Af­ter­wards, the Bei­jing An­i­mal Hus­bandry Sta­tion be­gan to pre­pare for the Livestock and Poul­try Germplasm Re­sources Bank of Bei­jing Mu­nic­i­pal­ity.

Zero to One

Many peo­ple might not be fa­mil­iar with “germplasm” but not es­tranged from its “seed bank.” On Spits­ber­gen Is­land in Nor­way is a fa­mous seed bank, Sval­bard Global Seed Vault. The vault is built 120 me­tres in­side a sand­stone moun­tain on the is­land. The tem­per­a­ture can be main­tained below 18 de­grees Cel­sius in­side the vault year-round, which is 130 me­tres above sea level that keep it dry in case the ice caps melt.

Sam­ples in­side the vault can be ac­cessed when reg­u­lar genebanks lose sam­ples due to nat­u­ral dis­as­ters or nu­clear wars. The sam­ples stored in the vault en­sure that hu­man be­ings can re­sume agri­cul­tural pro­duc­tion even in the face of worldly dis­as­ters.

Sval­bard Global Seed Vault is by no means unique. In China or other coun­tries, sim­i­lar in­sti­tu­tions are en­gaged in this work, but most of them serve to pre­serve plants' germplasm mainly be­cause the preser­va­tion of an­i­mals' germplasm needs higher re­quire­ments be­cause of its tech­no­log­i­cal process and de­gree of dif­fi­culty. In China, germplasm re­source banks for livestock and poul­tries de­vel­oped by gov­ern­ment agen­cies are few and thus, de­vel­op­ing the Livestock and Poul­try Germplasm Re­sources Bank of Bei­jing Mu­nic­i­pal­ity can be termed “from zero to one.”

At first the Bei­jing An­i­mal Hus­bandry Sta­tion had to carry out mod­er­ate de­vel­op­ment due to its lim­ited space and in­fra­struc­ture. The sta­tion ar­ranged an area for ex­per­i­ments, where a range of fa­cil­i­ties were pro­vided to im­prove the hard­ware of the re­source bank in­clud­ing equip­ment for mon­i­tor­ing oxy­gen con­tent of the en­vi­ron­ment and tem­per­a­tures in­side the re­source bank.

Over the past three years, the re­source bank has been pro­vided 25 fa­cil­i­ties for man­ag­ing sam­ples and mon­i­tor­ing oxy­gen con­tent and tem­per­a­ture, which en­sure germplasm re­sources of livestock and poul­tries from Bei­jing or around China of the next 15 or 20 years such as sam­ples of their sem­ina, em­bryos, blood, tis­sues and DNA

can be se­curely stored in the long term and stan­dard­i­s­a­tion man­age­ment can be car­ried out for trac­ing their data.

Qual­ity con­trol and op­er­a­tional sys­tems are also key is­sues for de­vel­op­ing the re­source bank. Be­fore the es­tab­lish­ment of the re­source bank, China has had no such agency es­tab­lished in its prov­inces or mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties. As far as its man­age­ment was con­cerned, how did it set up a thor­ough and fea­si­ble op­er­a­tional pro­gramme and stan­dard with­out ex­pe­ri­ence as a ref­er­ence?

Al­most ev­ery­thing was new means of ex­plo­ration. Ac­cord­ing to Zheng, in 2015, man­age­ment took six months to di­vide the re­source bank into func­tional ar­eas and carry out tri­als. In 2016, it com­pleted de­signs of eight in­ter­nal con­trol pro­grammes, in­clud­ing sam­ple man­age­ment, per­son­nel man­age­ment and an emer­gency plan to en­sure its sta­ble op­er­a­tion. Al­though th­ese pro­ce­dures and spec­i­fi­ca­tions may not be ap­pli­ca­ble to prac­ti­cal prob­lems, staff mem­bers of the re­source bank con­tin­u­ally im­prove or re- edit them to en­sure its sci­en­tific and sta­ble op­er­a­tion.

The re­source bank has now been op­er­ated un­der the re­quire­ment of a cold chain at a range of ul­tra-low tem­per­a­ture to low tem­per­a­ture (from below 196 de­grees Cel­sius to below 80 de­grees Cel­sius and below 20 de­grees Cel­sius). The re­source bank has es­tab­lished spec­i­fi­ca­tions on clas­si­fi­ca­tion, col­lec­tion, trans­porta­tion, pre­pro­cess­ing, stor­age and daily mon­i­tor­ing of sam­ples of con­ven­tional ge­netic ma­te­ri­als (blood, sem­ina, and DNA).

Com­prised are man­age­rial and tech­ni­cal spec­i­fi­ca­tions. Man­age­ment spec­i­fi­ca­tions in­clude lab­o­ra­tory op­er­a­tion and in­stru­ment files and man­age­ment. Tech­no­log­i­cal spec­i­fi­ca­tions in­clude mon­i­tor­ing of tech­no­log­i­cal pro­ce­dures for mi­crosatel­lites of poul­try.

Se­lected Germplasm

What kinds of livestock and poul­tries' germplasms can be stored in the re­source bank? It starts with the re­sources of livestock and poul­tries from Bei­jing, where it has a long his­tory of rais­ing livestock and poul­try and over 80 breeds from seven cat­e­gories in­clud­ing pigs, cat­tle and horses.

Bei­jing has five lo­cal breeds in­clud­ing Bei­jing Fatty Chicken and Bei­jing Duck, and 11 se­ries of their hy­brid breeds in­clud­ing Jing­bai Chicken, Nankou (Num­ber One) Bei­jing Duck and Bei­jing Duck Type Z, which are listed in Zhong­guo xuqin pinzhongzhi (“the an­nals of China's livestock and poul­try's breeds”). In 2016, the new cul­ti­vated breeds in­clude Jing­bai Chicken Num­ber One and Jingx­ing Yel­low Chicken's Hy­brid Breed Num­ber 103. The afore­men­tioned breeds have been cov­ered by the germplasm bank.

“The pur­pose of the germplasm re­sources bank is to store the core breeds,” Zheng says. Re­search on the sur­vey of livestock and poul­try breeds of Bei­jing has been car­ried out for many years, pro­vid­ing favourable con­di­tions for se­lect­ing high qual­ity sam­ples for the re­source bank. Ac­cord­ing to Zheng, there are 197 cer­ti­fied farms for breed­ing livestock and poul­try in Bei­jing, in­clud­ing 86 for breed­ing pigs, 27 for cat­tle, 68 for poul­try farms, five of which are na­tional core breed­ing farms (three pig breed­ing and two poul­try farms) and five na­tional breed­ing preser­va­tion farms.

Ge­netic re­sources of lo­cal livestock and poul­try breeds should be ef­fec­tively pre­served, but Zheng thought that with the ad­vance­ment of sci­ence and tech­nol­ogy that in­for­ma­tion of other breeds are use­ful. He added, “The germplasm re­source bank first se­lects rare and en­dan­gered breeds and lo­cal breeds.”

The germplasm re­source bank is not just for tak­ing sam­ples of lo­cal livestock and breeds of poul­try. At 8:30 a.m. on one day, staff mem­bers of the germplasm re­sources bank was about to visit a farm near Xiaotang­shan in Chang­ping District to take blood sam­ples of al­pacas. Equip­ment in­clud­ing vac­uum blood tubes for sam­pling were put into in the trunks of ve­hi­cles. Af­ter they en­tered the farm, over a hun­dred gen­tle yet timid al­pacas cu­ri­ously gazed at the staff mem­bers wear­ing pro­tec­tive cloth­ing and hold­ing sy­ringes.

Tak­ing sam­ples along with their meth­ods vary from species to species. Gen­er­ally speak­ing, us­ing non- in­va­sive sam­pling can only cause min­i­mal harm. Vac­uum neg­a­tive pres­sure meth­ods for tak­ing blood sam­ples of al­pacas is widely used, safe and re­li­able. A staff mem­ber skill­fully found the jugu­lar vein of an al­paca and in­serted a nee­dle into it. Dark red vein blood slowly flew into a vac­uum blood tube.

Af­ter a few sec­onds, a staff mem­ber with­drew the nee­dle and im­me­di­ately turned the tube up­side down eight times and put it into a box of sam­ples. Ac­cord­ing to the staff mem­ber, the vac­uum blood tube has many types, one of which was a tube with a pur­ple cap (a tube for rou­tine blood tests). One staff mem­ber said, “The tube con­tains an­ti­co­ag­u­lant. Af­ter tak­ing the blood sam­ples, we turn the tube up­side down eight times to mix the an­ti­co­ag­u­lant with the blood to pre­vent co­ag­u­la­tion.”

The key to pre­serv­ing blood sam­ples is low tem­per­a­ture. Long-term preser­va­tion can't be achieved with blood sam­ples al­though there's ice in them. Af­ter sam­pling, the staff mem­bers im­me­di­ately drove to the lab­o­ra­tory for DNA ex­trac­tion of the sam­ples. The bot­tles con­tain­ing ex­tracted DNA would be brought to the germplasm re­source bank, where staff mem­bers need to wear thick an­tifreez­ing gloves and gog­gles to put the frozen box con­tain­ing DNA into stor­age tanks filled with liq­uid ni­tro­gen. Long-term stor­age for the DNA can be car­ried out at a tem­per­a­ture of below 170 de­grees Cel­sius due to the pres­ence of liq­uid ni­tro­gen.

When ge­netic re­sources are needed, they can be taken out of the tanks and re­leased. “The germplasm re­sources stored here can be used for pure breed­ing or cross breed­ing of livestock and poul­try through ex­chang­ing ge­netic re­sources. If nec­es­sary, we se­lect the best sam­ples to cre­ate a high qual­ity breed. For ex­am­ple, sperm, em­bryos and gene sam­ples can be used for ar­ti­fi­cial in­sem­i­na­tion, trans­fer­ring em­bryos and ge­netic re­search of bio­di­ver­sity re­spec­tively. We will set up a re­source plat­form to in­ter­pret and use ge­netic in­for­ma­tion with bi­o­log­i­cal tech­nolo­gies,” Zheng ex­plained.

The germplasm bank stores 1,380 blood sam­ples and tis­sues of Pek­ing Chicken and Bei­jing Duck, 600 and 2,628 blood sam­ples of high qual­ity pigs and Hol­stein cows re­spec­tively, and 700 sam­ples of sem­ina of bulls of Hol­stein, Li­mousin, An­gus and Sim­men­tal; col­lects 600 DNA sam­ples of Qing­hai Finewool Sheep, Karakul Sheep, Ti­betan Sheep and Small-tailed Han (a breed of sheep), and 120 ge­netic sam­ples of Equus (a genus of mam­mals in the Equidae fam­ily).

The Cen­tre of Livestock and Poul­try Germplasm Re­sources in North­ern China of China Na­tional Genebank not only en­sures the preser­va­tion of ge­netic ma­te­ri­als of livestock and poul­try but also ad­vances the de­vel­op­ment of Bei­jing's germplasm re­sources.

Sval­bard Global Seed Vault in Nor­way

Sam­ples are marked and pre­served in a re­frig­er­a­tor.

Staff from germplasm re­sources bank take blood sam­ples from an al­paca.

DNA sam­ples are pre­served in boxes and brought to the germplasm re­source bank. DNA sam­ples are placed in stor­age tanks filled with liq­uid ni­tro­gen.

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