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article imageFarmTech: Biotechnology for breeding healthier animals

By Tim Sandle     Oct 1, 2017 in Science
Edinburgh - By analyzing the genetic code of sheep, researchers have come up with information that will aid breeding programs leading to healthier and more productivity animals. This centers on a review of genes relating to different tissues and organs.
The research comes from the University of Edinburgh, where scientists have mapped which genes are switched on and which are turned off within the different tissues and organs found in a sheep's body. These findings show just how complex the biology of sheep is. Of main interest to farmers are the insights gained into the function of the genes linked to immunity and meat quality. The longer-term aim is to help farmers with breeding programs and with improving stock quantity.
Sheep are a central part of many agricultural economies and managing sheep stocks is a central part of sustainable agriculture. As well as meat source, domestic sheep provide a wide array of raw materials, for example wool was one of the first textiles, and sheepskin is also used for making clothes and rugs. Other products include sheep tallow, which is used in candle and soap making; sheep bone and cartilage, which can be used for objects to be carved or in glue production. Sheep are also an important biomedical model, particularly in Australia.
Genetic profiling
Achieving this was a complex task, given that sheep possess over 20,000 different genes. To further complicate this, not all of these genes are expressed in each tissue type within the body. To assess the genetic composition, the researchers examined RNA (part of the nucleic material involved with protein synthesis; RNA is, to use computing terms, a functional read-out of precisely which genes are expressed in which tissues at any one time).
The aim of this analysis was to determine how a sheep's genetic information influences its physical traits. This information was collated into a database, and the database was subsequently shared online and made free to any scientist. The cost of doing so was supported by the Functional Annotation of ANimal Genomes (FAANG) initiative.
Better breeding
Discussing the importance of the findings the research head, Professor David Hume, of stated: "This is largest resource of its kind. Ongoing comparative analysis will provide insights to help us understand gene function across all large animal species, including humans."
The research has been published in the journal PLOS Genetics, under the title “A high resolution atlas of gene expression in the domestic sheep (Ovis aries).”
More about agritech, Biotech, farmtech, Biotechnology, Sheep
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