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Beyond the Bale : Dec 06 - Jan 07
Mr Nivison says he expects SheepGenomics and the resulting gene markers to be well received by industry. "You only have to look at the beef industry, where most commercial buyers use Breedplan figures," he says. "Over time, commercial ram buyers will be able to ask for the traits they want in their rams. We can tell them what genes the rams have and how to source them, but not what to source. That is their decision." SheepGenomics is a $30 million joint initiative of AWI and Meat and Livestock Australia involving 11 leading research organisations in Australia and New Zealand. The program aims to determine gene function from genomic information in sheep and harness that information to address specific industry needs. The program's three main objectives are to: ú develop new therapeutic, diagnostic, genetic selection and performance-enhancing products for control of gastrointestinal parasites and improved capacity to control wool quality, meat production and reproduction; ú identify sheep with exceptional phenotypes in existing experimental and commercial flocks and use these sheep to discover gene markers, genes and gene functions affecting economically important traits; and ú consolidate and expand Australasian technical capacity in functional genomics and proteomics applied to the sheep. ú More information: Rob Forage, AWI SheepGenomics program director, 02 8295 3161 Enthusiasm is building for the potential of the SheepGenomics program, which will bring sheep breeding into a new technological era. The program is identifying the actual genes and gene sets responsible for the traits that have traditionally been selected visually. This will provide breeders with tools that should considerably reduce the time it takes for a breeding program to deliver the traits being sought. Breeders who contributed sheep semen to the program were recently invited to a field day at AWI's Falkiner Memorial Field Station at Deniliquin in southern NSW, where a DNA marker resource flock is being run. The flock is a testing ground, with semen from 20 different rams selected for their unique traits being used to investigate the sheep genome. One of those at the 'Red Carpet Day' field day was Kim Barnet from 'Miramoona' at Walcha, NSW, whose ram is in the marker resource flock because of its high fertility. It has been delivering conception rates of 140 to 145 per cent. "The Merino is renowned for low conception rates, so if using a ram like this in SheepGenomics produces a DNA marker for increased fertility, it could have a great impact on the industry," Mr Barnet explains. "Even if a producer could wean 10 per cent more lambs, that could make a big improvement on his bottom line." Mr Barnet says SheepGenomics opens up the potential to select animals with traits such as high fertility much more rapidly and accurately than current selection methods, which involve considerable record keeping as well as lengthy time lags. This said, he is not advocating anyone selects or breeds for a single trait. 8PROFITABILITY BEYOND THE BALE (Left) Kim Barnet from 'Miramoona' Merino Stud,Walcha, and Dr Troy Fischer, AWI program manager for sheep productivity, examine progeny bred using semen from a 'Miramoona' ram at the Red Carpet Day. (Above) woolgrowers attending the Red Carpet Day to see the progress of their rams in the DNA marker resource flock were George Carter of Linton,Woolbrook; Andrew Burgess of Ruby Hills,Walcha; and Robert Mortimer of Centre Plus,Tullamore. Gene tools herald a new breeding program Producers who contributed sheep semen to the SheepGenomics program saw at a recent field day its potential to select rapidly for favourable traits "I think our clients in the future who will use the outcomes of SheepGenomics will take a 'fruit salad' approach to using the markers," he says. "They won't just go for a ram which has strengths in one trait but is badly behind in other traits. They will want a ram that has a big strength in the trait they are chasing, such as fertility, but still performs well in other traits like body weight, fleece weight, micron and worm resistance." Mr Barnet travelled to Deniliquin to see the progeny of his ram on display and says the experience was fantastic: "It was great to be able to talk to the researchers and feel their enthusiasm and passion for what they are doing." AWI director Hugh Nivison was also an invited guest at the Red Carpet Day. "SheepGenomics is a logical extension of the current methods of breeding and selecting Merino sheep," Mr Nivison says. "The only tools we had in the past were visual and tactile, and we have passed the stage now where this is enough. We need to move away from just looking at the animals to the underlying genes and the animals that carry them. "The traits may be things like mothering ability or resistance to worms, but they are all relevant to the profitability of sheep enterprises." Mr Nivison says it is important to put any future outcomes from SheepGenomics in the right context. "This will not tell us exactly which sheep to breed, but it will give us extra tools to select for the kind of sheep we want. We've gone from looking at traits -- visual selection -- to measuring traits and now to finding the genes which drive that expression."
Feb 07 - Mar 07