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Jimmy Smith, director-general of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), based in Nairobi, Kenya, visited SciDev.Net's London office to discuss a project to create the world's first gene bank for livestock.
All over the world, scientists are trying to preserve the genetic heritage of crops and wild plants by collecting organic samples and seeds in so-called gene banks. As well as protecting biodiversity, gene banks provide important information on plants' adaptability to difficult environmental conditions.
There is currently no such facility for livestock, despite farm animals playing a crucial role in the world's food security and nutrition. ILRI is attempting to tackle this problem effectively and inexpensively.
Gene banks are not only useful for protecting endangered species; they are also a precious research tool. Scientists are aware that climate change will significantly impact both on plant and animal biodiversity, and that each species will react differently. Some will be able to adapt to the extreme weather, warmer atmospheres and changing soil conditions predicted, and researchers hope to learn from this. By building gene banks, they are creating gene pools to search in — with the ultimate goal of developing new strategies to tackle future environmental challenges.