A research project led by the University of Idaho is working on discovering the genes that determine the most desirable traits in sheep. Associate Professor Brenda Murdoch says one of the goals of the project is to help producers either develop genetic tools or make better breeding decisions, and goes on to say, “So, this project will add reference genomes from a number of different breeds, as well as big horn sheep [a different species], in order to be able to identify genes and more specifically genes that are related to economically important traits.”
Currently, only the rambouillet’s genome has been sequenced among all the sheep breeds, and Murdoch says, “The way we currently do it, with just one reference, that really limits our ability to discover new things. We know that there’s more genetic information out there that are related to biological traits of interest like increased milking, increased lambing, improved health, improved meat and improved wool characteristics.”
Murdoch hopes that by laying the groundwork on the tools and techniques needed to unlock more of the mysteries of sheep genomes, students will someday take their knowledge and apply it to other species. A $500,000 grant from USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture is funding the University of Idaho’s research.