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News Article

Sheep genome sequenced

Results show how sheep became a distinct species from goats, explain specializations in digestive system physiology and wool production

Researchers from the University of Edinburgh's Roslin Institute were part of a global team that has decoded the genome sequence – the entire genetic make-up – of domestic sheep for the first time.

The team – the International Sheep Genomics Consortium – compared sheep genes with those of other animals, including humans, cattle, goats and pigs.

Not only did the analysis identify several genes associated with wool production, it also revealed genomic and transcriptomic events associated with rumen evolution and lipid metabolism that may be relevant to diet and wool production. Genes responsible for sheep fleece were identified along with characteristics of their digestive system which allows them adapt to a diet of low-quality grass and other forage.

The findings, published in the journal Science, could have a role in the development of DNA testing to speed-up selective breeding programmes, helping farmers to improve stocks. Further studies using this resource could reveal new insights into diseases that affect sheep.

According to Professor Alan Archibald, Head of Genetics and Genomics at The Roslin Institute, sheep were one of the first animals to be domesticated for farming and remain an important part of the global agricultural economy. Understanding more about their genetic make-up will help researchers to breed healthier and more productive flocks, he said.

This collaborative study, involving 26 research institutions in eight different countries, was led by researchers from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, Australia; BGI and the Kunming Institute of Zoology, China; Utah State University and Baylor College of Medicine in the US; and The Roslin Institute.

The BBSRC-funded ARK-Genomics facility – which is part of Edinburgh Genomics at the University of Edinburgh – provided a substantial body of sequence data, including information on which genes are expressed in a spectrum of 40 different tissues.

The sheep genome illuminates biology of the rumen and lipid metabolism. Y. Jiang et al. Science (2014) 344 (6188): 1168-1173 DOI: 10.1126/science.1252806

Article details

  • Date
  • 11 June 2014
  • Source
  • The Roslin Institute
  • Subject(s)
  • Animal breeding and genetics
  • Animal nutrition