New research into “genetic signposts” that point the way to better health and welfare offers the promise of major productivity benefits to the sheep industry.
Until recently it has only been possible to test for single genes affecting animal performance -such as scrapie resistance. A new SAC led project, funded by the Scottish Government, DEFRA and QMS will explore tests for groups of genes that together influence other aspects of an animal’s health or wellbeing.
According to the project leader Dr Beatriz Villanueva of SAC, recent developments in genetic science are creating new opportunities for livestock breeders.
“We know that many animal performance traits are under the control of hundreds of genes, each with relatively small effects, and it has proved much harder to develop DNA tests for them. Now recent advances in lab techniques mean it is feasible to test for tens of thousands of variations in the particular DNA sequence that an animal inherits”
Using this new information the project will explore the practical benefits this new information may offer livestock breeders and their customers.
Professor Geoff Simm, Head of SAC’s Livestock Systems Research commented,
“Genetic improvement is a very cost effective way of improving livestock performance and profitability. We have world class breeding schemes in parts of the UK sheep industry delivering multi-million pound benefits, but these could be increased four-fold by wider use of current breeding techniques. The new DNA-based methods could add to these benefits, and make it easier to improve traits like disease resistance, which is difficult to do by conventional breeding based on data recording. Resistance to worms, footrot and better lamb survival are obvious targets”.
Geoff Simm believes those breeding pure bred stock stand to benefit as do commercial lamb producers seeking high merit replacement animals.
“Genetic improvement of appropriate traits can deliver multiple wins” he said. “It can make production more economic, reduce the environmental cost of each kilogram of food produced, cut waste and, when traits such as health and survival are targeted, improve animal welfare”.
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