Genetic diversity of selected genes that are potentially economically important in feral sheep of New Zealand.
Background: Feral sheep are considered to be a source of genetic variation that has been lost from their domestic counterparts through selection. Methods: This study investigates variation in the genes KRTAP1-1, KRT33, ADRB3 and DQA2 in Merino-like feral sheep populations from New Zealand and its offshore islands. These genes have previously been shown to influence wool, lamb survival and animal health. Results: All the genes were polymorphic, but no new allele was identified in the feral populations. In some of these populations, allele frequencies differed from those observed in commercial Merino sheep and other breeds found in New Zealand. Heterozygosity levels were comparable to those observed in other studies on feral sheep. Our results suggest soem of the feral populations may have been either inbred or outbred over the duration of their apparent isolation. Conclusion: The variation described here allows us to draw some conclusions about the likely genetic origin of the populations and selective pressures that may have acted upon them, but they do not appear to be a source of new genetic material, at least for these four genes.