UK National Livestock Gene Bank

A key part of RBST’s work involves collecting genetic material, this is in the form of semen and embryos. The reason for this is to safeguard the UK’s rare and native breeds of farm livestock against diminishing numbers and potential threats posed by disease outbreak our rarest breeds.

History and Future

Frozen straws semen

Although RBST had for many years collected, stored and distributed rare breed cattle semen, the need to expand the archive to include other species of rare breeds became urgent as a result of the 2001 Foot and Mouth epidemic.

RBST now collects semen from all the species on the Watchlist except the poultry breeds. In 2015, RBST also began collecting and storing embryos from rare breed cattle, and in 2016 saw the first collections of goat and sheep embryos added to the gene bank.

RBST monitors developments in reproductive technology and as new technologies become available to us, we hope to be able to store more material, including embryos from our other species and material from our poultry breeds. this is highlighted by the use of IVF in cattle, after unsuccessful embryo collections we decided to try IVF which resulted in embryos being both implanted and stored.



How do we choose which animals to collect from?

There are a number of ways in which animals are selected for collection. RBST welcomes nominations of animals of all breeds on the current RBST Watchlist. We want animals collected to represent the diversity of the whole breed. When considering collecting material from a new animal, we use a kinship analysis to measure how related it is to others we have previously collected. Ideally kinship should be very low meaning the animals are as unrelated as possible.

RBST is not just collecting from show winners and those considered the best in the breed. We want the Gene Bank to represent the genetic diversity found in each breed.

In several breeds we have conducted a Geneped breed analysis which enables us to highlight the different bloodlines in a breed and select animals that represent the range of lines, both rare and common. 

Semen Collections

The majority of the Gene Bank is made up of semen. We collect from males from our cattle, equine, sheep, goat and pig breeds. we also collect embryos from cattle, goats and sheep. Our target is 25 unrelated collections from each breed, for the species that we are able to collect embryos from we aim to have a combination of both semen and embryos:

Species Number of semen collections Number of embryo collections
Cattle 17 8
Goats 20 5
Sheep 20 5
Species Cost to collect Target Collections For Gene Bank archive For conservation breeding projects
Cattle £3,350 140 straws 90 straws Remainder
Equine £6,800 100 doses 55 doses Remainder
Sheep £900 100 doses 55 doses Remainder
Goats £900 100 doses 55 doses Remainder
Pigs £3,800 60 doses 50 doses Remainder *

* We collect in partnership with the BPA who manage the semen for use in conservation breeding projects.

Embryo Collections

The ability to collect embryos is an area that has improved over the past few years. The increased accessibility to such technology has resulted in the RBST undertaking a number of embryo projects. In 2016 RBST achieved successful collections from cattle, goats and sheep.

At this moment in time we are unable to collect and freeze equine and pig embryos.

Our policy, based on current best practice, is to require 8 embryos for a full Gene Bank collection. The current result achieved average one or two viable embryos per female. A single embryo collection cost around £850 per female.

As well as undertaking the collection we also purchase semen that meets our requirements and are also very grateful for the donations of semen we receive. In 2016 alone we had a large number of cattle semen donated to us for a number of cattle breeds, this semen will remain in our gene bank.

To download a copy of our Gene Bank update 2017 click here

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