Many local breeds are currently at risk because of replacement by a limited number of specialized commercial breeds. Concurrently, for many breeds, allelic diversity within breeds declines because of inbreeding. Gene banking of germplasm may serve to secure the breeds and the alleles for any future use, for instance to recover a lost breed, to address new breeding goals, to support breeding schemes in small populations to minimize inbreeding, and for conservation genetics and genomics research. Developments in cryobiology and reproductive technology have generated several possibilities for preserving germplasm in farm animals. Furthermore, in some mammalian and bird species, gene banking of material is difficult or impossible, requiring development of new alternative methods or improvement of existing methods. Depending on the species, there are interesting possibilities or research developments in the use of epididymal spermatozoa, oocytes and embryos, ovarian and testicular tissue, primordial germ cells, and somatic cells for the conservation of genetic diversity in farm- and other animal species. Rapid developments in genomics research also provide new opportunities to optimize conservation and sampling strategies and to characterize genome-wide genetic variation. With regard to gene banks for farm animals, collaboration between European countries is being developed through a number of organizations, aimed at sharing knowledge and expertise between national programmes. It would be useful to explore further collaboration between countries, within the framework of a European gene banking strategy that should minimize costs of conservation and maximize opportunities for exploitation and sustainable use of genetic diversity.
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