An international effort to map the sheep genome, which was published this week, has already had valuable spin-offs for New Zealand agriculture, says AgResearch.
The paper, published in Science, represents eight years’ work by researchers in eight countries, 26 institutions with 73 authors.
AgResearch Principal Scientist John McEwan is one of the paper’s authors.
He says New Zealand scientists have been using the information from the project for the last six to seven years as it has been generated.
“It has allowed us to do a whole lot of things that were previously impossible. The international effort produced a very high quality assembly of the sheep genome. Associated work has identified more than 30 million DNA variants, and because of the assembly, we know the order of all those variants as well,” he says.
“It has enabled us to create low, medium and now high density ovine SNP chips. As a result, we have implemented genomic selection in sheep, and New Zealand has been world-leading in this regard. It has also meant that the pace of discovery of gene variants affecting production and disease traits has advanced much more rapidly internationally.”
The information was used to create the 50K SNP chip which is being used to develop genetic selection in the majority of the New Zealand dual purpose sheep for 22 traits as part of the Beef + Lamb New Zealand and AgResearch-funded Ovita project.
These include facial eczema, parasite resistance, number of lambs born, meat yield and adult ewe liveweight. Commercial implementation uses lower density chips developed from 50K results.
“This technology has proven useful for hard-to-measure traits which are recorded late in life,” says Mr McEwan. “We have also used this information to develop parentage assays that are now widely used in the industry and around the world.”
Use of the low and medium density (5K and 50K) SNP chips has been estimated to generate $200 million for the NZ industry over the next 15 years.
The sequencing for the early work was done at the University of Otago and Baylor College of Medicine in Texas while more recent sequencing has been done at BGI in China, Baylor and the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh.
The paper in Science is “The Sheep Genome Illuminates Biology of the Rumen and Lipid Metabolism.” It describes the assembly and properties of the sheep genome and concentrates on what makes it unique with two examples.
The first is a gene family that is important in the structural integrity of the rumen, a unique organ which allows the digestion of cellulose and other plant material in ruminants. The second is how the tissues and pathways involved in fatty acid metabolism have also changed.
The research institutes involved are: Australia (CSIRO; University of New England; University of Sydney), China (BGI-Shenzhen; Inner Mongolia agricultural University; Institute of ATCG, Nei Mongol Bio-Information; Kunming Institute of Zoology; Lanzhou Institute of Husbandry and Pharmaceutical science; Macau University of Science and Technology; North West A&F University; Sichuan Agricultural University), Denmark (University of Copenhagen), France (INRA), New Zealand (AgResearch; University of Otago), Saudi Arabia (King Abdulaziz University), UK (Biosciences KTN; Edinburgh Genomics; European Molecular Biology Laboratory, European Bioinformatics Institute; The Roslin Institute; Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute; University of Edinburgh), USA (Baylor College of Medicine; USDA-ARS Animal Disease Research Unit; Utah State University; Washington State University).