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Published June 06, 2014, 03:36 PM

Team of researchers completes sheep genome sequence

A large international team of researchers has completed the sequence of the sheep genome, to be published in a study entitled, “The Sheep Genome Illuminates Biology of the Rumen and Lipid Metabolism.” The completion of the genome follows eight years of work by a team of more than 70 researchers from 26 institutions located in eight countries around the world.

By: American Sheep Industry Association,

DENVER — A large international team of researchers has completed the sequence of the sheep genome, to be published in a study entitled, “The Sheep Genome Illuminates Biology of the Rumen and Lipid Metabolism.”

The completion of the genome follows eight years of work by a team of more than 70 researchers from 26 institutions located in eight countries around the world.

“The release of the sheep genome assembly is the culmination of a very large international effort,” says Noelle Cockett, Ph.D., provost of Utah State University and professor in the Department of Animal, Dairy and Veterinary Sciences at USU. “I am honored to be part of the project and I appreciate the American Sheep Industry’s support of the project and of my involvement throughout the years. The assembly would not have been possible without the encouragement and engagement of the U.S. sheep producers.”

The U.S. components of the project were undertaken at USU, Baylor College of Medicine, U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service and Washington State University.

This work will accelerate research on all kinds of sheep traits — from reproduction and lamb growth to wool quality, milk yield, methane production and disease resistance, according to the American Sheep Industry Association. These applications will lead to better breeding strategies and new approaches to sheep management. The study also enhances understanding of genes in other species like cows, goats and deer.

The specific findings include the DNA sequence of sheep, the locations of the genes and an extensive index showing where in the body each of the genes is active. In the past, researchers studying particular traits had to do extensive DNA sequencing — often over months and years — to understand just a few genes at a time. Now the complete set is available in seconds.

Another key finding from the study involved the rumen, which is an essential organ for sheep to convert plant forage into animal protein. Sheep and some other livestock species have a rumen and a stomach to help with forage digestion. A number of novel genes have been identified that are only active in the rumen. Finding these genes is the first step toward a better understanding of how sheep process forage so efficiently.

The sheep genome will assist in advancing human and veterinary medicine. The resources built by the team will provide a strong foundation for the detailed exploration of the similarities and differences between sheep, humans and other animals at the molecular level. This will enable improved medical treatments for a number of conditions, including sepsis and asthma.

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