An international research consortium involving CTLGH scientists has identified where the majority of genes are found in the new reference genome for sheep.
The Ovine Functional Annotation of Animal Genomes (FAANG) group have built a high quality map of the location of genes in the genome. This information, which is available freely to researchers, will support future genetic research to improve the health and productivity of sheep around the world.
The Rambouillet reference genome was produced by researchers at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, and released in 2018. This new reference genome contained a huge amount of information but in order to identify the functional elements of the genome (i.e. genes and the regions that regulate them) that information needed to be deciphered, or annotated.
CTLGH researchers based at the Roslin Institute worked with collaborators in the USA, Australia, and New Zealand to successfully annotate the Rambouillet reference genome, using a technology called ‘Cap Analysis Gene Expression’ (CAGE) sequencing, and identify the exact location of where genes start.
Supporting future research
The results of this project, published in Frontiers in Genetics, will allow researchers to study specific regions of the genome with confidence and see how they affect both the physical and physiological characteristics (phenotypes) of the animal. The information can also be used to help identify genetic markers that could be used to support future studies on health, welfare, resilience, nutrition and productivity through improved genomic selection accuracy.
Emily Clarkfrom CTLGH and the Roslin Institute was part of the research group. She commented:
“Sheep are hugely important farmed animals, providing a key source of meat and fibre globally. The high resolution annotation of transcription start sites in the genome that we have generated for the Ovine FAANG project will give scientists a better map of the genome upon which to base their studies”
Brenda Murdoch from the University of Idaho is the coordinator of the Ovine FAANG project. She commented:
“This research is very important; it identifies the location and the regulatory elements of genes that control economically important traits like health, meat and wool quality in sheep. It is this type of information that is essential to help breeding programs select and predict traits to improve the sustainability and productivity of this globally important species.”
The Rambouillet is famous for its high quality fleece. They are hardy animals and are able to live in harsh conditions. Originating from Spain’s Merino flocks, the breed was introduced into France in 1786 when Louis XVI brought over 300 of them from his cousin King Charles III. Small flocks were then exported to the United States in the mid 1800’s where they were selectively bred to produce an animal suitable for the needs of the American sheep industry. The breed is now farmed extensively on the western ranges of America.
This international consortium of scientists aim to produce comprehensive maps of functional elements for the genomes of domesticated animal species, to help support future genomic studies. Established in 2017, FAANG has received funding from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA NIFA), FAANG-Europe COST Action and the Horizon 2020 European Research Framework. The Ovine FAANG project grant which funded the work described here was supported by USDA NIFA awards USDA-NIFA-2017-67016-26301 and USDA-NIFA-2013-67015-21228.