Harvey Blackburn, animal geneticist and N.A.G.P. coordinator, said this collection of germplasm assures genetic diversity of agriculturally significant animals, such as dairy and beef cattle, chicken, sheep and swine, in addition to bison, elk and fish. Among the animal germplasm Mr. Blackburn has added to the A.R.S. collections is that from Shorthorn cattle.
For Mr. Blackburn and other N.A.G.P. specialists, providing vital genetic material for scientific research has become a primary function. They distribute animal samples to university researchers, private laboratories and others who work to improve the genetic makeup of animals.
Genetic material has been used to restore breeds of cattle and other animals that had died out. Researchers insist that maintaining diversity by preserving germplasm—even if the material comes from breeds that aren't currently being studied—acts as an insurance policy against future diseases or other threats.
In Michigan, researchers worked with D.N.A.-based technology to develop 40 distinct lines of chickens at the Avian Disease and Oncology Laboratory (A.D.O.L.) in East Lansing. Those studies have revealed tools and techniques to find sources of genetic resistance to diseases such as virus-induced tumors.