Genes and breeds

800px-Dexter_cow,_Three_Counties_ShowI read an obituary of someone called Joe Henson this week, founder of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust.  For those of you in the UK his son Adam is a presenter of “Countryfile” and Joe has featured on it a few times as well.  We may have a lot to thank Joe Henson for in the future.  He started the Rare Breeds survival trust which aims to ensure the survival of rare breeds of farm animals.  What is even more surprising about this story is that Joe Henson did not even come from a farming background but was the son of an actor.

One of the big problems of modern agriculture is the limited gene pool used.  This applies not just to breeds of farm animals but also breeds of plants.  This may have aesthetic taste implications (see our “apple day” post) but the narrow genetic range matters for a number of other reasons.  The first is that a disease could wipe the animal or plant out leaving us vulnerable.  This happened with maize in the US in the 1970’s.  The second is these rare breeds may have useful genetic traits which could be bred into the wider population.  We need to preserve these breeds for those reasons and since we would lose part of our heritage.  This is particularly true for our family.  One of my ancestors bred the Dexter cow (pic above).  It was saved by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust and is no longer endangered.  Thanks Joe.


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