A physical DNA map of more than 98 per cent of the sheep genome will be released by CSIRO scientists this week, charting where a sheep’s hereditary information can most likely be found on its 26 chromosomes.
CSIRO Livestock Industries scientist Brian Dalrymple said the data would allow better identification of the genes responsible for traits such as inferior black wool, better meat quality and parasite resistance to allow farmers to breed out weaknesses for superior stocks.
Scientists from six countries – led by Australian and New Zealand researchers – compared small, known segments of the sheep genome to the genome map of humans, of which much more is known.
A computer program then re-ordered the human sequence into the order it might be in the sheep.
"Most of the genes are the same in cattle, sheep and dogs and human beings, it’s just that they’re ordered differently," Dr Dalrymple said today.
"We take the pieces from the order they are in the human genome, reorder them, and that gives us the order that they are in the sheep.
"We liken it to a high resolution picture as opposed to a low resolution picture which we have at the moment."
He said that picture would enable farmers to decide which animals to breed together for particular physical characteristics in much more detail.
Dr Dalrymple said the research had laid the ground work for the eventual sequencing of the sheep genome which would lead to a much more comprehensive and detailed map.
"There’s still several orders of resolution better that we need to go," he said.
Similar projects have already been undertaken in the poultry and cattle industries, allowing farmers to test DNA to decide on the best breeding matches.