Domesticated Goats Show Unique Gene Mix

By Bower, B. | Science News, May 12, 2001 | Go to article overview

Domesticated Goats Show Unique Gene Mix


Bower, B., Science News


Goats have long been a favorite of farmers for good reason. They can survive on seemingly inedible scraps of vegetation in the harshest environments. And they provide milk, meat, skin, and fibers without taking up much space.

Those qualities go a long way toward explaining why domesticated goats in Europe, Africa, and Asia share a striking degree of genetic similarity, according to the scientists who discovered the pattern.

The surprising amount of genetic unity among far-flung goat populations reflects these versatile animals' popularity as portable trading items in ancient times, contend geneticist Gordon Luikart of Universite Joseph Fourier in Grenoble, France, and his coworkers. That mobility, which extended across continents, prevented goats in different parts of the world from developing regional genetic signatures, Luikart says.

"Goats might have played an important role in historical human colonizations, migrations, and commerce," he and his coworkers propose in the May 8 PROCEEDINGS OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES.

Unlike goats, cattle and other domesticated animals were bred in various locations without much mixing of animals from separate geographic regions. Earlier analyses found that these creatures display different genetic patterns from one continent to another.

Luikart's team obtained blood samples from 406 goats representing 88 domesticated breeds and from 14 wild goats, each of a different species. The animals came from Europe, Africa, and Asia. For each blood sample, the scientists extracted mitochondrial DNA, genetic material that's passed exclusively from mothers to their offspring.

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