The publication of the first major sequences of the sheep genome
in the past month has paved the way for exciting breeding-based
improvements in the efficiency, health, welfare and environmental
sustainability of sheep production across the world.
The sequencing, achieved by collaborators from the UK, USA, Australia
and New Zealand in a project coordinated by the International Sheep
Genomics Consortium (ISGC), represents a key milestone in global
Announcing the breakthrough in the UK on behalf of the Consortium,
Chris Warkup of the Roslin-based Genesis Faraday Partnership stresses
that unravelling the entire sequence of sheep DNA is still some
way off. However, he insists the present development is a particularly
critical step on the road towards being able to read the full sheep
”A library of all the DNA of a Texel sheep was produced some time ago,” he
explained. “But this is stored in a large number of small fragments.
By sequencing the ends of these fragments, the ISGC team has paved the way
for a ‘virtual’ sheep genome to be built by matching them to similar
sequences in the existing draft cow genome.
“The principal sequencing work was carried out by the Institute
of Genome Research in Maryland, USA with funding contributions
from various sources including our own Scottish Executive and BBSRC.
Having been processed by CSIRO in Australia, the information has
now been placed in the public domain at www.livestockgenomics.csiro.au/sheep/.”
Chris Warkup points out that the new information will now be used
to develop practical tools for the high throughput mapping of production
traits with the aim of identifying genes to improve important characteristics
like production efficiency, meat and wool quality and disease and
Alongside established breeding techniques, he sees genetic markers
for such traits making a major contribution to increasing both
the pace and reliability of international sheep production improvement
“This basic research is the essential building-block for
a world of exciting breeding-based improvements in livestock production
worldwide,” he emphasised. “Improvements which are
vital if we are to satisfy the competing demands of a growing world
population, improved animal welfare and greater environmental sustainability.
“It is only through collaborative projects of this nature
that we can marshal the necessary expertise and resources to do
this fundamental science. We are determined the UK will play
its role in such international efforts so it can reap their full
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