Trinity geneticists have found that modern day Irish goats lack genetic diversity due largely to intensive selective breeding that has been taking place over the past 200 years. The study is the first instance of taxidermy specimens being used to answer questions about livestock genetics.
The geneticists compared the mitochondrial DNA of modern day domestic and feral goats with that of decades old taxidermy specimens. The purpose was to determine which existing goat populations, if any, have retained some of the genetic diversity of goats of the past.
The study highlighted the lack of genetic diversity in Irish goats living today. This means they are more likely to succumb to disease and less likely to adapt sufficiently to different environments than more genetically robust breeds. This also limits new genetic variants in breeding. It was found that no modern-day Irish goat used in the dairy industry has a significant genetic link to Old Goat herds of the past. Instead, the goats used in agriculture are largely Swiss breeds.
Dr Valeria Mattiangeli, one of the study’s lead researchers, said that the results of the study “highlights the impact that transportation and mass importation of continental breeds has had on Ireland’s goat populations, and underlines how selective breeding for agricultural purposes can impact the genetic diversity of animals.”
The study did, however, discover one instance of genetic diversity in Irish goats in an endangered feral goat herd in Mulranny, Co. Mayo. This population shows a genetic similarity to Old Goat populations that lived on the Isle of Skye in the 1800s. It is one of the last remaining Old Irish Goat breeds.
Commenting on this discovery, Seán Carolan, a member of the Old Irish Goat Society and co-author of the study, said: “We hope this study will play a key role in saving what was and still is a diminutive creature that is both resilient and charismatic and that represents our cultural and pastoral history.”