Storing ram semen

There’s an article in The Economist (subscription needed, but you can also read it here), of all places, on the storage of livestock semen for transportation. There are apparently chemical additives available that prolong the life of bull and boar sperm, but nothing yet for ram sperm. This is a pity because semen is a much more convenient and cheap way of moving genes about than transporting live animals, not to mention safer. Which is why the ministry responsible for agriculture in the UK asked the Institute of Zoology in London to have a look at the problem. They decided to start by working out how all sorts of wild species with long-lived sperm – from bats to sharks – achieve that feat. A promising mixture of proteins called sAPM (soluble apical plasma membranes) has been identified, but the details are still secret. Could this have implications for ex situ conservation of sheep genetic resources?

Cattle cause global warming

Well that’s a bit strong perhaps. What this article, based on an FAO report, does point out, however, is that the burgeoning global livestock sector produces 18% of global carbon dioxide emissions – which is more than transport. It is also having other serious environmental impacts. What to do? The report makes suggestions in the focus areas of reversing land degradation, increasing the efficiency of livestock production, and better water use. Genetic resources could of course contribute to all these.

Ice cream: one hump or two?

Food manufacturers in Rajasthan, India, have created an ice cream made of camels’ milk. At a recent tasting, an Italian, no less, apparently described it as “an absolutely delicious desert treat”. Tommaso Sbriccoli, said it “compared favourably with the gelato-frozen desert in his home country” according to Daily India.

The serious point to all this is that there has actually been remarkably little selection for milk production in camels. That means an enormous diversity in how much herders can get from a female. I remember visiting a researcher in a desert country who was trying to improve matters, because a small decrease in the variation in milk production would make an enormous difference to the amount of milk poor nomads could get from their beasts. That idea crops up again from time to time but I’ve no idea whether any great progress has been made. Do you know?