White-tailed Deer is a deer species whose weight ranges from 45Kg to 70Kg and which are predominantly native to the America, including Peru and Bolivia. They are named after their native whitetails. Another key feature is their horns, antlers that are uniquely branched to serve various purposes such as medicine, decoration, food (gelatin) and curving for trophies. In this regard, it is the need to satiate these utilities that farming and correctly breeding these deer to achieve best antlers is very essential.
Genetic modification and/or engineering refers to the manipulation of an organism’s part or entire gene to attain certain desired traits (Bruce, 2014). The process involves elimination of unwanted organic characteristics through various ways such as genetic silencing and/or genetic insertion. Genetic silencing consists of the turning of not so useful traits in organisms based on desired need while genetic addition is the introduction of foreign traits into an organism to alter its characteristics into desirable ones (Wiedenheft, Sternberg & Doudna, 2012). The need to silence undesired whitetail antler traits and introduce desired ones prompts the modification of whitetail deer genetics concerning these antlers. Mainly, smaller and malnourished antlers are not desirable and the fact that the traits of antlers are inherited means that they can be genetically manipulated. Farmers desire bigger and healthier antler growth, which is geared towards enhancing the supply of antlers. Thus, the aim of this research paper is to establish; genetic characteristics of white tail deer antlers, various factors that contribute to greater antler growth, how antler development in deer can be genetically steered and the genetic procedures were undertaken to ensure the maximum potential growth of antlers for harvesting.
Genetic Characteristics of White-tailed Deer
Heritability of Antlers
Whitetail deer antlers are hereditary, meaning that based on the dominance of antler features in the parents, offspring may take up the same traits. For instance, if the parents had weak and undesired antlers, there is an absolute possibility that the offspring will have the same. The case is similar to the yearlings, whose parents had well-formed antlers. In light of this, it becomes essential to note that antlers in whitetail deer have a significant genetic variance of 0.22-0.56 antler points (Webb et al., 2012). Precisely, the size and weight of antlers is proven to be genetically passed down from parents to offspring.
Whitetail Deer have variance in genes to offspring, usually predominantly predetermined by the male deer, a clear implication that to genetically modify the antler growth into desirable weight and sizes, the males have to undergo gene deletion or insertion to boost the outcome in the herds.
Subjectivity to Environment
Antler traits may be affected by the environment and season within which offspring are delivered. Yearlings born through summer periods tend to have heavier and bigger antlers unlike those born in winter or other seasons. Also, the yearlings born in the earlier times of viability of a female and/or male tend to exhibit better growth of antlers due to stronger genetic connectivity to the parents. The case is different for yearlings born of way older deer, which are sexually selected features, in that deer born in later seasons tend to be phenotypically stunted (Swaim, 2015).
Factors that Contribute to Greater Antler Growth
The key to desired white deer antler growth is based on the measures of performance on various weightings. These include the weight of the antler, its shape (spiked or forked), length and base circumference. The main factors that affect antler growth are age, genetics, and nutrition.
In ordinary perspectives, the antlers grow bigger the deer gets older. Approximately, deer that are over three years tend to have bigger and more massive antlers with larger circumference and length. The younger ones have room for growth of antlers but are not so big. The gender aspect can also be used to quantify antler growth. Male yearlings are found to have more significant and more massive antlers as compared to female ones of their exact age. Precisely, the male’s growth is more concentrated and exponential as compared to the females.
The hereditary aspect has been quite unquantifiable over time, but with the identification of genetic features, there has been the improved use of modifications to suit given needs in antler growth. The gene in the siring deer is comprised of its offspring, and as such, many white-tailed deer offspring are a reflection of the genes in their parents. The growth of antlers, therefore, for weak siring deer will have weak antler growth in offspring and the reverse holds too.
In any animal growth, nutrition is critical. After genetically identifying and modifying deer to have better antler growth, farmers focus on nutrition to scale growth upwards. Most individuals and even game management entities base on protein intake for whitetail deer to improve their growth. However, it has to be noted that only +14 % or -14% crude protein is needed by these deer to fully grow antlers at a maximum potential (Spurlock, 2015).
Genetic Modification of Whitetail Deer Antlers