World leader in genomics

By Country News

The sheep industry has transformed itself into a world leader in genomics research and technology adoption in just 10 years, according to a leading industry body.

Sheep Industry Innovation’s Co-operative Research Centre genetics program leader Julius Van der Werf said the first genomic testing tools developed 10 years ago were able to be quickly adopted by Australian sheep breeders because of the volume of high-quality data that was being delivered by the investment in the Information Nucleus Flock (INF).

‘‘Nothing like the INF had been attempted anywhere else in the world, with thousands of sheep being recorded for traits that were not easily measured by breeders — for example, the meat quality of their lambs and parasite resistance of the ewes,’’ Professor Van der Werf said.

‘‘As a result of that investment the Sheep CRC was able to develop genomic tests that could provide breeders with predicted breeding values for these traits on their young rams.’’

The Sheep CRC has worked in partnership with researchers from universities across Australia, leading producers and breed societies, and industry bodies including Sheep Genetics, Meat & Livestock Australia and Australian Wool Innovation.

‘‘It seems so obvious now, but prior to 2001 the industry had taken a fragmented approach to sheep genetic research,’’ Prof Van der Werf said.

‘‘If it wasn’t for the strategic and collaborative approach that coincided with this shift in philosophy, the sheep industry would not be in the position it is today.

‘‘Merino producers can now easily gauge the genetic potential of their flock and with RamSelect, they can target the rams that suit their purpose.

‘‘We have also improved the DNA test by selecting the best genetic markers after studying the complete DNA sequence of sheep.

‘‘This test can be provided to the industry for a price that is very affordable when compared with other industries.’’