Inbreeding Isn't All Bad

A geographically isolated population subjected to a bottleneck event and then the inevitable inbreeding seems a recipe for genetic disaster, yet the Chillingham cattle of northern England, highly inbred for three centuries, are remarkably healthy and fertile. In 1947, the herd consisted of five males and eight females, and by October 30, 2000, their numbers had grown to just 49 animals. Their secret to success: probably luck, explains Peter Visscher, a reader in animal genetics at the University of Edinburgh. "We suggest that this herd has been lucky in being able to purge the bad alleles, whereas on average we would expect a build-up of bad alleles in the population," he says. The Chillingham cattle live under unnatural conditions, although they are a feral herd. "The Chillingham estate wishes to keep the herd isolated, so the cattle are prevented from going outside, and other cattle...

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