|ILRI geneticist Olivier Hanotte starts his new position as professor of population genetics and conservation at the University of Nottingham, UK on 1st January. He will also be the director of a charity based at the university called Frozen Ark. The charity is concerned with the ex situ conservation of endangered animals, including wildlife as well as livestock.
Hanotte joined ILRI in 1995 when the Nairobi-based International Laboratory for Research on Animal Diseases (ILRAD) merged with the Addis Ababa-based International Livestock Centre for Africa (ILCA). Since then ILRI has shifted from a predominantly African focus to a global focus, with ILRI offices not only in East, West and Southern Africa but also in South Asia and South East Asia, providing new opportunities for Hanotte’s research focus.
In his 13 years at ILRI, animal geneticist Olivier Hanotte has worked to unravel the diversity of developing-world livestock using the latest molecular technologies of DNA sequencing and genotyping.
ILRI deputy director general – research, John McDermott, says ‘In 1995, when Hanotte began his work at ILRI, we knew that the world’s livestock diversity was shrinking fast, but no one knew exactly what was being lost and where we should target conservation efforts. Africa and Asia’s genetic diversity was largely unknown and unmapped.
‘We now have a much better picture of the livestock diversity hotspots in Africa and Asia and where the world needs to focus its conservation and genetic improvement efforts. This is due in large part to Hanotte’s scientific leadership, commitment to scientific excellence, innovative partnerships and capacity building activities across two continents’ says McDermott.
In 2003, Hanotte became leader of ILRI’s project on Improving Animal Genetic Resources Characterization. He has supervised project members working in Nairobi, Addis Ababa and, since 2005, in Beijing at a joint laboratory established with the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Science on livestock and forage genetic resources. He has established long term collaborations with several research institutes such as Trinity College at the University of Dublin (Ireland), Rural Development Agency, RDA (South Korea) and the joint FAO-IAEA division in Seibersdorf and Vienna (Austria).
Seminal work by Hanotte and his team has disclosed the origin and distribution of genetic diversity of livestock species including cattle, sheep, goat, yak and chicken in Africa and Asia. These findings are now providing a rationale for targeted conservation and utilization programs for developing-country livestock breeds at risk of extinction. This work also gives us a glimpse into the distant past of the peoples and civilizations of Africa and Asia.
Hanotte’s research has been published in leading scientific journals, including Science, PNAS, Animal Genetics and Molecular Ecology. He has produced over 80 scientific publications and received several international awards, including the CGIAR Science Award in 2003 for Outstanding Scientific Article. He has also supervised and co-supervised research projects of over 50 students and scientists.
Hanotte and colleagues at ILRI continue to break new ground. Current work includes research to better understand and characterize the adaptive traits of indigenous livestock to their local production environments, specifically the genetic and adaptive mechanisms for resistance and tolerance to infection and disease. Research includes tolerance of trypanosome infections in ruminants, resistance to gastro-intestinal worms in sheep and resistance to avian viral infection in poultry. Their work supports the new field of ‘livestock landscape genomics’, which has the long-term and ambitious aim of exploiting advances in the genomics and information revolutions to reliably match breeds to environments and sustainably increase livestock productivity.
Recognized as a leading expert in livestock diversity, Hanotte was invited to write the opening chapter, on the Origin and History of Livestock Diversity, for a major FAO-led study, ‘The State of the World’s Animal Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture’, released at a Swiss conference in September 2007. He serves on the editorial boards of two major livestock journals (Animal Genetics and the Journal of Animal Breeding and Genetics), and as a regular scientific referee for major scientific journals. His group collaborate with ILRI’s sister CGIAR institution ICARDA in the characterization of the genetic resources of small ruminants.
Hanotte says, ‘I’m very much looking forward to my new position, but leaving ILRI is bittersweet. I have spent the greater part of professional life here in Kenya. I will greatly miss my colleagues and the rich culture of Africa. But I also know that there will be opportunities for collaborations in the future’
‘When you are studying or working in the North, you can get distorted information about Africa and Asia. And you can become removed from the realities. One of the big advantages of working with ILRI is that you’re based in a developing country. That means you’re never too far away from the people that you’re working for. ILRI is an open door to African and Asian farming societies and cultures’
Professor of Population and Conservation Genetics /Director of theFrozen Ark
School of Biology
University of Nottingham
NG7 2RD, United Kingdom
Deputy Director General – Research
International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI)
Olivier Hanotte’s recent published research on BioInfoBank: http://lib.bioinfo.pl/auth:Hanotte,O
Overview of ILRI research on Improving Animal Genetic Resources Characterization
The State of the World’s Animal Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture
Frozen Ark website http://www.frozenark.org/
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