Australia’s sheep breeders now have a more accurate and cost-effective way to predict traits that are important to domestic and international markets.
Agriculture Victoria research scientists have accurately produced the complete genetic code for more than 60 000 sheep — the largest genetic dataset of sheep in the world.
The task was enormous. Completing each of the 60 000 genetic codes was the equivalent of solving a 20 million-piece puzzle that had 97 per cent of the puzzle pieces missing.
Agriculture Victoria research scientist Hans Daetwyler said the research had generated a powerful dataset for Australia’s red meat industry and enabled Australian sheep producers to maintain a competitive edge.
“This research gives Australian sheep breeders an unprecedented resource that can be used to improve genomic selection for traits being driven by domestic and export markets,” Dr Daetwyler said.
“It allows Australian sheep breeders to predict targeted traits such as improved meat tenderness, wool volume and quality, growth rates and parasite resistance with up to 10 per cent more accuracy.”
The dataset has already been used by Agriculture Victoria research scientists to boost the accuracy of important sheep traits in the GGP Sheep CRC 50k test — a multi-trait DNA test with 50 000 markers now available to Australian sheep producers.
“Now that we have successfully identified all the genetic markers in our sheep breeds, we can gain insights into what each of these genetic markers do,” Dr Daetwyler said.
Agriculture Victoria research scientists are now drilling down to the metabolite and gene expression level for the 60 000 sheep genetic codes, comprised of 20 million DNA markers — making it the world’s largest gene expression research in sheep.
“Looking at these genes with an even higher resolution will further improve the genetic dataset and will continue to help sheep breeders select for sheep with improved productivity, meat quality and animal welfare.”
Agriculture Victoria used the next generation sequencing, advanced scientific computing and metabolomics capabilities at AgriBio, the Centre for AgriBioscience in Victoria.