SCALA-MEDI - Improving sustainability and quality of Sheep and Chicken production by leveraging the Adaptation potential of LocAl breeds in the MEDIterranean area.

About Us

The SCALA-MEDI project will characterise the genetic and phenotypic diversity of Mediterranean local breeds of sheep and chicken and study their ability to adapt to harsh environments and management systems. The project will leverage data produced in EU projects and generate new data, including traditional production traits and using new technologies for remote phenotyping of adaptation related traits, genotyping, and to explore the genome methylation status of animals reared in different environmental conditions. Data and samples will be collected on local breeds from Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco (16 sheep breeds and village chicken populations from different bio-climatic environments), taking advantage of local expertise in addition to that available in Italy and France. Local resources will be characterized for farming system, diversity, distinctiveness and adaptive traits. Genomic data will be analysed to identify loci controlling adaptation traits and product authenticity and will be used to create decision-making tools to improve conservation and selection programmes and management strategies for Mediterranean livestock production system to face future climate change scenarios. SCALA-MEDI has an international, interdisciplinary team in including experts in animal farming, animal breeding, animal physiology, veterinary science, conservation biology, population genetics, molecular genetics, reproduction biotechnologies, statistics and socio economics, plus a super-computing centre, breeder associations and SMEs to ensure that the objectives are achieved.

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Period of Implementations

Sep 1, 2021 - Aug 31, 2025

Total Budget

EUR 1.749.999,50

OUR IMPACT

Goals

1. Characterization of local sheep and chicken in Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia using advanced approaches to estimate phenotypic, genotypic and epi-genotypic diversity. 2. Identification of genomic signatures of adaptation in local genetic resources. 3. Establishment of selective breeding programmes to improve the sustainability and resilience of local farming systems, compatible with the preservation of diversity, and adaptation to harsh and changing environments. 4. Assessment of the role of epigenetics in adaptation, to fill the existing gap in knowledge of the link between genotype and its phenotypic expression in different environments. 5. Exploration of options to include epigenomic marks in breeding programs. 6. Definition of the specific features and benefits of local sheep and chicken to develop approaches for in vivo conservation of local genetic resources. 7. Development of strategies to add value to products from local genetic resources and promote their use. 8. Development of a network of existing genebanks in the Southern Mediterranean region and cooperation with the European genebank network. 9. Capacity building, knowledge transfer and dissemination of advances achieved by the project to the whole value chain and stakeholders.

Objectives

The SCALA-MEDI project will optimise the sustainable use and conservation of local genetic resources from the Mediterranean region, focusing on adaptation to climatic conditions and consumer preferences. The expertise and data from previous EU projects will be extended to the genetic and epigenetic characterisation of local resources and their adaptation to different production environments in three North African countries, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco. Tools and strategies will be developed to improve local breeds for sustainable production. Application of these tools will be demonstrated to farmers in diverse Mediterranean production systems.

Impact Pathway

SCALA-MEDI will deliver better knowledge of epigenetic and genetic processes in sheep and poultry by collecting genotype, epigenotype, production data and novel phenotypes on response to environmental stress for local sheep breeds and village chickens in Morocco, Algeria Tunisia, Italy and France. Remote phenotyping systems will be tested and the links between genetic and epigenetic processes will be improved by correlating production and adaptation phenotypes with low cost genotypes (IMAGE001 Array) and epigenetic variation (LUMA). Analyses of these data will give a deeper understanding of the way an individual adapts to changes in their environment and the genetic and physiological processes involved, leading to the adaptation of breeds to the changing Mediterranean environmental conditions. The in-depth genetic and phenotypic characterization of local North African sheep and chicken populations by SCALA-MEDI will provide detailed information on existing genetic variation, and identify admixture, including introgression of imported genetics. The most effective conservation strategy is to derive value from in-situ use of local genetic resources. SCALA-MEDI will develop breeding strategies to improve resilience, and hence sustainability of production using locally adapted genetics, while identifying and maintaining locally appreciated quality to ensure the genetic conservation of local best adapted breeds. Commercial breeds of sheep and chicken often suffer in harsh environments causing stress that leads to poor welfare and hence low productivity. Local populations are often better adapted to temperature extremes, poor feed and water shortages but their production levels are low. By integrating phenotypic, genomic and epigenomic analyses, SCALA-MEDI will identify genetic and epigenetic variants better suited to diverse environments. Breeding strategies will be developed to propose to the farmers new options of breeds adapted to the local conditions (matching genetic and epigenetic with environment). SCALA-MEDI will explore the current constraints on the local sheep and poultry farming industry and identify breeding and management practices better matched to production environments. Different breeding strategies will be tested and feedback from farmers will be collected to assess their impact. Tools based on genetic markers will be created to validate the authenticity and valorise products from local breeds and hence build trust and add value. This will increase small farmers’ incomes via the rearing of local breeds and the sale of products (raw or transformed) with high added value. Information from SCALA MEDI will be disseminated during training and technology transfer events to improve farmer education and know-how. Better flock management will increase production and farmer income to encourage young people and women to remain in their homeland, thus reducing the exodus from rural to urban areas and stimulate the creation of small businesses or start-ups in marginal areas. Application of the SCALA-MEDI strategies for breeding will increase the overall profitability of farming systems by developing adapted populations that can use local resources more efficiently and require lower inputs to survive harsh environments. Knowledge of breed adaptation will increase the value of some of the local breeds/populations. Climate change is a major risk for food security in Northern Africa. The improved resilience of sheep and chicken farming stemming from the SCALA-MEDI project will increase food security by ensuring sustainable production of local eggs, meat and milk. Establishing reliability in supply will ensure fair market prices for both producers and consumers, increasing accessibility to the high-quality protein that is fundamental for a balanced diet and enhanced human health.

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