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"BAA" coding sheep

Rogue rams can no longer 'jump the fence' undetected into the ewe paddock, causing havoc to graziers' carefully-planned sheep breeding programs.

DNA tests to identify the parentage and bloodline of elite sheep are now commercially available to breeders using the unique DNA 'fingerprinting' technology developed by CSIRO, with funding support from AWRAP/The Woolmark Company and the Cooperative Research Centre for Premium Quality Wool.

Using this technology is like assigning each sheep a bar code - or "baa code" as it has been nicknamed. The breeder can tell a lamb's real parents by comparing the codes - even when the sire is unknown, or the lamb has been adopted by a different ewe.

This should lead to more rapid gains in wool quality, growth rate and other desirable traits, scientists say.

"Demand for DNA parentage testing is growing rapidly as producers see the benefits and the cost come down," says Dr Rob Woolaston, Acting Deputy Chief of CSIRO Livestock Industries.

"In response to this demand, we have licensed the delivery of our technology to SignaGen Molecular Breeding Solutions, a business that is capable of handling the high throughput needs of many breeders.

"The groundbreaking use of this technology for the sheep industry will enable producers to track down rams that are passing on undesirable genes as well as pedigree those identified with favourable traits," he says.

"State-of-the-art DNA fingerprinting used with modern breeding techniques will help the industry to accelerate the genetic improvement of its livestock and so increase its competitiveness."

"Specialised gene marker "baa codes" developed by CSIRO, together with its unique DNA sampling system, will allow SignaGen to provide a reliable, high quality, cost-effective DNA testing service to meet industry demands," says Dr Tom Watson, Business Development Manager of SignaGen.

"Our ongoing relationship with CSIRO Livestock Industries ensures that we stay at the technological forefront in this rapidly developing genotyping area.

"This, together with SignaGen's state-of-the-art hardware and software systems, will guarantee that breeders have access to the very best DNA testing services.

"Mis -identification due to mis-mothering and incorrect recording procedures will rapidly become a thing of the past," he said.

AWRAP/The Woolmark Company is also pleased to see the commercialisation of this sophisticated molecular breeding technology.

Chairman, Tony Sherlock, said "The availability of this DNA testing service is a tangible result of our investment in research and development to benefit Australian sheep producers. For wool to remain competitive with other fibres we must continually innovate and use state of the art technology."

"Funding support from the industry has enabled our research team to fast-track this project and to develop specific markers and a new simpler sampling procedure to make it rapid and reliable," says Dr Ian Franklin, senior scientist at CSIRO Livestock Industries.

"Through DNA testing we have eliminated the errors in identifying the true parents of lambs, and this will have a major impact on the sheep industry. DNA typing will ensure that lambs being offered for sale have come from the specified parent bloodlines.

"Identifying parents using DNA markers is now a well-established forensic procedure. We have applied this technology to sheep to allow the industry to embrace modern breeding technology to make significant advances in livestock improvement.

"Through DNA parentage we are able to track down and remove sheep carrying undesirable traits, and we will soon be able to use DNA fingerprinting to breed rams selectively for highly desirable qualities such as fine wool and more efficient growth," he says.

For further information call Public Affairs Officer Paul Irons - (04) 498 7108. See also www.australia.org.nz

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