Video Tip of the Week: Turkeys and their genomes

This week we’re departing from the tradition of showing software to show you genomes in action–have a look at research turkeys and learn more about the production of birds in this video.

I was a bit surprised to learn that all those turkeys result from artificial insemination. Conventional breeding has led to the current situation of the hulky toms that are no longer well designed for, er, natural breeding. For more details and video about er, natural breeding, you can see this post from Southern Fried Science: America’s lust for gigantic breasts leads to impotence: the population genetics of captive-reared turkeys.

As Thaler notes there, although this has brought one species to a genetic bottleneck, the development of this process has actually had benefits to other bird populations that are at risk of disappearing:

Artificial insemination programs have been essential in the re-population and de-listing (or downgrading) or Peregrine falcons, California condors, and Whooping crane. These programs owe part of their success to the innovation and experience of the commercial turkey industry.

Still, most chatter in the public sphere is about human genomes, yet in many ways the agricultural genomics peeps are way ahead with moving genomic details into usefulness for affecting the characteristics of species that we rely on. And they were doing that before NGS came along. To give you a sense of that you might also be interested in the way dairy cows have been bred to be more efficient, which has many benefits for sustainable production. The Perfect Milk Machine in The Atlantic earlier this year did a good job of describing that.

“At the same time, the number of dairy cows has decreased from a high of 25 million around the end of World War II to fewer than nine million today. This is an indisputable environmental win as fewer cows create less methane, a potent greenhouse gas, and require less land.”

Fewer animals to feed, less space to require, less methane. And yet still enough cheese.  That really is an awesome stat, and nice demonstration of what technology and breeding can offer in quality and efficiency improvement. So think about the genetics of your food (and likely your adult beverages) as you also consider family history over the table.

However, if you do need some actual genome information about your Thanksgiving Dinner, you can check out the UCSC Genome Browser or the Turkey Browser at Ensembl for that. The NCBI turkey genome site also tells us that the karyotype tastes like looks like chicken!

You can also scope out the Meleagris gallopavo sequencing paper that came out a couple of years back. You’ll be eating 16,000 annotated avian genes.


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