Bucks and genetics: Mother Nature can’t be outwitted, Part 2

Last time, I opened a discussion about the theory of selectively targeting bucks that have been labeled as having inferior genetics because of the so-called quality of their antlers, and eliminating them from the herd so they don’t pass on those “poor genetics” to future generations – especially the buck fawns they might sire.

My opinion on this topic is that it’s not only unrealistic, but it’s insane to believe that we have the ability to play God and to manipulate genetics in such a way that it works to our benefit. Perhaps it’s easy to believe that by using a selective culling process in order to modify the gene pool, we are influencing Mother Nature’s balancing act. I’m not sure. What I do know, though, is that there are a ton of reasons to contradict this theory.

Previously, I briefly covered a couple of the controversies of culling to improve genetics: the short spike debate and outside influences. But these are among many reasons why the idea of culling for genetics is nothing more than a pipe dream.

When it comes to the growth cycle and outcome of an individual buck’s antler formation, the most crucial and overlooked element, by far, is the role of the doe. In fact, the mother often has a greater influence on her son’s antler production than the father – including the biological and genetic aspect. After all, as complex as DNA is, one thing is uncomplicated: both parents are contributors to their offspring’s DNA – even the antler-coding genes.

The takeaway here is straightforward. Buck fawns aren’t the only recipients of antler-coding genetics. Doe fawns also receive equal amounts of this specific material. In turn, both bucks and does will pass on the genetic combination they received from their parents to their future offspring.

Steve Ditchkoff, a well-respected professor and researcher at Auburn University, is a professional I’ve come to rely on for information on this topic.

Ditchkoff says that, basically, it boils down to the chromosomal material that an individual fawn receives from its parents. Each contributes one pair of sex chromosomes to each of their offspring. Female is X and the male is Y, with the father being the responsible party that determines gender. Therefore, a buck can distribute X, Y, or both in the case of multiples. Additionally, doe fawns will always be XX (one X from the mother and one X from the father). A buck fawn, however, will have an XY combination.

The kicker here is that antler-coding genes reside on both X and Y chromosomes. More specifically, Ditchkoff notes that one chromosome typically carries more weight and is longer and larger than its counterpart. If the bigger chromosome containing antler-coding material comes from the mother, then a buck fawn is likely to inherit more deciding antler-coding genes from his mother. If the father is the carrier of the heavier chromosome, the buck fawn will still receive genetic material from his mother, but it will be primarily from his father.

The same directive goes for doe fawns, too. The point of mentioning this biological perplexity is to reiterate the fact that we have no way of knowing the amount of antler-coding genetics a fawn receives from the mother or the father. More importantly, there isn’t a way to measure what genes from each parent that a buck fawn will hand down to his own offspring. Just because the larger portion of the antler-determining genetics he received didn’t produce satisfactory antler formation doesn’t mean that he isn’t carrying exemplary genetics from the other parent that he might deliver into the gene pool through his future offspring.

You simply can’t assume.

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