DNA tools for improving sheep breeding
Ovine 50k 'SNP chip' being readied for scanning. Each chip has space for 12 samples
Since the Neolithic age, animal breeders have used traditional methods to produce sheep that are ever larger, healthier, meatier and woollier. However, new tools, based on DNA and its analysis, have suddenly made it possible to greatly accelerate and direct such breeding, with consequent major increases in productivity. For example, since the late 1990s, the weight of sheep meat produced per ewe wintered has increased by 72%, largely due to genetic improvements.
Much of this advancement is the result of 25 years of research by an international group of scientists, including an AgResearch group currently led by John McEwan. This work has culminated in the development of a device called a SNP chip, which has the potential to further accelerate the rate of genetic improvement in sheep. The long road to this stage traversed numerous technologies, starting with slow and expensive techniques that, nonetheless, allowed scientists to take the first steps towards unravelling the sheep’s genetic secrets.
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