Genetic Management of Nonhuman Primate (NHP) Breeding Colonies

Most NHP breeding colonies are maintained as outbred colonies. This is in contrast to many research rodent colonies, where inbreeding is used to maintain animal models which are essentially identical to each other. There are hundreds of inbred mouse strains which are used to study specific diseases, including variants for different aspects of a disease. However, NHP are used as translational models, with the goal of being as close to human as possible. Therefore, NHP are outbred, to ensure a diversity in genetics similar to that of humans.

NHP breeding colonies use more females than males, because a single male can father many offspring during the time a female can have one. It is therefore important to select males for the breeding colony which have the most genetic utility. The factors that make animals desirable for outbred colonies are high genome uniqueness and low mean kinship.(1) Genome uniqueness is a statistical estimation of the number of alleles an animal possesses which are rare in the colony. Animals that are new to the colony (“founder” animals) are considered to have unique alleles, and in each generation some alleles are lost, depending on the number of offspring. Mean kinship is a statistical measure of how related animals are to each other in the colony. Both of these measures require detailed pedigrees of the colony. As genotyping of individual animals becomes more common, the genetic utility may also be assessed by direct calculation of rare alleles.

Once the males have been selected, breeding groups are established. Pedigree software is used to assess the relationships between animals. From a genetic point of view, animals are selected for breeding groups in a way that inbreeding is minimized. However, there are other factors to consider in breeding group formation. These include breeding group size, breeding performance, animal health, social status, behavior, and research needs. Colony managers work with geneticists, behaviorists, and veterinarians to establish successful breeding groups.


Vinson A, Raboin MJ
A Practical Approach for Designing Breeding Groups to Maximize Genetic Diversity in a Large Colony of Captive Rhesus Macaques (Macaca mulatta).
J. Am. Assoc. Lab. Anim. Sci. 2015 Nov; 54(6): 700-7.