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Animals 2013, 3(2), 442-474; doi:10.3390/ani3020442
Review

Exploration of the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis to Improve Animal Welfare by Means of Genetic Selection: Lessons from the South African Merino

1
, 1
 and 2,3,*
Received: 28 February 2013; in revised form: 6 May 2013 / Accepted: 13 May 2013 / Published: 17 May 2013
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Future of Farm Animal Welfare)
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Simple Summary: Breeding sheep that are robust and easily managed may be beneficial for both animal welfare and production. Sheep that are more readily able to adapt to stressful situations and a wide variety of environmental conditions are likely to have more resources available for a higher expression of their production potential. This review explores the utilization of one of the stress response pathways, namely the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, to locate potential sites where genetic markers might be identified that contribute to sheep robustness. A South African Merino breeding programme is used to demonstrate the potential benefits of this approach.
Abstract: It is a difficult task to improve animal production by means of genetic selection, if the environment does not allow full expression of the animal’s genetic potential. This concept may well be the future for animal welfare, because it highlights the need to incorporate traits related to production and robustness, simultaneously, to reach sustainable breeding goals. This review explores the identification of potential genetic markers for robustness within the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPAA), since this axis plays a vital role in the stress response. If genetic selection for superior HPAA responses to stress is possible, then it ought to be possible to breed robust and easily managed genotypes that might be able to adapt to a wide range of environmental conditions whilst expressing a high production potential. This approach is explored in this review by means of lessons learnt from research on Merino sheep, which were divergently selected for their multiple rearing ability. These two selection lines have shown marked differences in reproduction, production and welfare, which makes this breeding programme ideal to investigate potential genetic markers of robustness. The HPAA function is explored in detail to elucidate where such genetic markers are likely to be found.
Keywords: robustness; stress; cortisol; hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis; marker-assisted selection; SNP; sheep; animal welfare; behaviour robustness; stress; cortisol; hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis; marker-assisted selection; SNP; sheep; animal welfare; behaviour
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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MDPI and ACS Style

Hough, D.; Swart, P.; Cloete, S. Exploration of the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis to Improve Animal Welfare by Means of Genetic Selection: Lessons from the South African Merino. Animals 2013, 3, 442-474.

AMA Style

Hough D, Swart P, Cloete S. Exploration of the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis to Improve Animal Welfare by Means of Genetic Selection: Lessons from the South African Merino. Animals. 2013; 3(2):442-474.

Chicago/Turabian Style

Hough, Denise; Swart, Pieter; Cloete, Schalk. 2013. "Exploration of the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis to Improve Animal Welfare by Means of Genetic Selection: Lessons from the South African Merino." Animals 3, no. 2: 442-474.

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