The first ever sequence of the sheep genome has been completed by scientists, which has shed new information on the species' unique and specialized digestive and metabolic systems.
Sheep, a major source of meat, milk, and fiber in the form of wool, are important to the agriculture industry. This exploration of sheep genetic characteristics found features that comprise their specialized digestive systems including the rumen (the first chamber of their stomach which helps digests plant material to animal protein) and fatty acid metabolism.
The collaboration, which included 73 authors from 26 institutions across eight countries, published the work today in the journal Science
The team identified highly expressed genes encoding proteins that may cross-link keratins (structural proteins of hair, nails, horn, hoofs, wool and feathers - the outermost layers of the skin) at the rumen surface.
Additionally, they identified changes in genes involved in lipid metabolism (fatty acids such as natural oils, waxes and steroids) and their role in wool synthesis.
The sequencing efforts of the project were conducted at the Human Genome Sequencing Center with Dr. Kim Worley, professor in the Center, as the lead investigator of the Baylor portion of the study. Worley also serves as a co-author on the report.