Genomics - Frequently asked questions

What is genetics?
Genetics is the use of actual measurement of an individual and relatives to assess and predict the potential genetic merit of that individual’s progeny.

What is sheep genomics?
Sheep genomics is about the direct assessment of the genetic makeup of sheep and ways it can be used to improve rate of genetic gain. Each sheep has 27 pairs of chromosomes each with tens of thousands of production related genes. Some of these key genes or groups of genes can be identified and used to improve productivity.

How are the key genes identified?
Genes are made up of varying numbers of base pairs of four different nucleotides and differences between animals in these are the basis of SNPs (single nucleotide polymorphisms – pronounced ‘snips’). By identifying varying numbers of SNPs and relating these to phenotypic production measurements in individual sheep, researchers can relate them to production traits of interest.

In practice how can this be used?
The SNP chips can be purchased for individual animals – rams and ewes – and used for early predictions of ‘genomic breeding values’ which can be combined with existing Australian Sheep Breeding Values (ASBVs) for improved rates of genetic gain. SNP predictions can also be used where there have been no direct measurements and for hard to measure traits such as reproduction, disease resistance and meat or wool quality.

What is an RBV?
A Research Breeding Value (RBV) does not meet the stringent requirements of a full ASBV value and its use by industry should reflect its preliminary ‘research’ status. The key difference lies in the accuracy levels of the RBVs, which in some cases are lower than would normally be released by Sheep Genetics. RBVs are derived from a combination of the animal’s genomic information from a 50k SNP Chip analysis, and measurements from other animals in the Sheep CRC Information Nucleus Flock.

In the context of genetic assessment, ‘accuracy’ means the accuracy of predicting or estimating a true breeding value i.e. the true genetic merit for a trait. It is not the accuracy of measuring a physical parameter i.e. a phenotypic measurement. For instance, in terms of genetics, an accuracy of 50% (or 0.5 on a scale from 0 to 1), means we are half-way to perfection (which is an accuracy of 100%, or 1 on a 0 to 1 scale). It does not mean there is a 50:50 chance of picking the right or wrong animal. As more direct measurements from the Information Nucleus flock are analysed, accuracy will improve over time.

Why should I as a breeder get involved with this new technology?
Some of the advantages you as a sheep breeder can experience include:

  • Inclusion of some traits currently not being measured in your flock
  • Early availability of breeding values allowing for earlier selection decisions
  • Awareness by your ram buying clients of your involvement in this progressive technology


What is it going to mean to my bottom line?
It is hard yet to quantify the dollar value benefits. Genetic improvement will be enhanced by around 20% through a shortened generation interval for some traits and availability of other new traits. It is expected that many of producers will seek rams that show use of this new genetic technology.

How widely available is genomic information?
At this stage use of genomic information is only available for the major breeds since there is sufficient data, for these breeds, to achieve accurate predictions. It is also unlikely that, in the foreseeable future, we will be able to develop accurate prediction of breeding values for minor breeds based on genomic data.
When will genomic (DNA) tests become commercially available in Australia? It is expected that the genomic tests being developed by the Sheep CRC will become commercially available during 2012.

How much will they cost?
At this stage it is too early to speculate on the price of the genomics tests, but the price will reflect the declining costs of the SNP chip technologies.

Where can I find out more about genomics?
Click here to find more information about terms relating to genomics.

Practical Wisdom Notes / Fact Sheets

PW4.1 New Opportunities in Genetics and Genomics

Products & Training Resources

ASBV Pocket Guide

Australian Sheep Breeding Values - A guide for ram buyers

Marketing your sheep with genetic data

Reports, Articles and Presentations

Getting Started with Sheep Genetics

Sheep CRC Genomics Breakfast Workshop - LambEx 2012

News Releases

Ram team recording drives improvements for Kangaroo Island flock
Keeping detailed and accurate ram team records has driven a flock transformation for Kangaroo Island Merino breeder Keith Bolto and proved why the new features offered on the RamSelect Plus app are a winner for commercial producers. About a decade ago the Bolto family began selecting rams for use in their flock, based on objective measurement information, and about five years ago began performance recording their own rams... Click Here To Read Full Article »
Tech-savvy students drive Farrer High to the top of RamSelect
Listing their catalogue via the RamSelect Plus app has showcased the value of early adoption of new breeding technologies and opened new markets for the students at Farrer Memorial Agricultural High School. Based in Tamworth NSW, the school’s agriculture subject offering includes a Year 9 and 10 ‘animal management course’, in which students take on the tasks associated with running the Farrer White Suffolk stud. Click Here To Read Full Article »
DNA Flock Profiler responds to producers needs
Breaking down a perception-driven market with objective genetic data was the impetus for sheep breeders Andrew and Barbara Read to conceive an idea which has now been realised in the form of the Sheep CRC’s DNA Flock Profile test. The Reads, from "Oak Hills", Nangus, NSW, first approached Sheep CRC chief executive James Rowe two years ago at a producer field day with the idea of developing a DNA test to profile the genetic... Click Here To Read Full Article »
Sheep researchers star on international stage
The next generation of red meat researchers are being inspired by the success of the sheep industry’s stable of young scientists who are starring on the world stage. Five Murdoch University scientists were recently chosen to deliver oral presentations, all linked to research they are conducting through the Cooperative Research Centre for Sheep Industry Innovation (Sheep CRC), at the recent International Symposium on Energy... Click Here To Read Full Article »
Breeding for flystrike resistance to be made easier
Genetic research into the heritability of flystrike susceptibility in sheep, and its expression in different operating environments, is set to be incorporated into new tools to assist breeders make more informed selection and flock management decisions. Tracie Bird-Gardiner, from the NSW Department of Primary Industries, has spent the last four years collecting and analysing data from fly-struck sheep in the industry’s... Click Here To Read Full Article »
Commercial Merino producers - opportunity for DNA pilot project
Commercial Merino producers have the opportunity to be at the cutting edge of DNA research by participating in a pilot trial of the new Flock Profiling Test from the Cooperative Research Centre for Sheep Industry Innovation (Sheep CRC). The Sheep CRC will provide support for up to 100 Merino producers to define the genetic merit of their flocks. The profiling test involves randomly sampling 20 young ewes for DNA testing. Click Here To Read Full Article »
Understanding why farmers are pressing the app buttons
Despite the proliferation of new technology in agriculture, very little is known about the effectiveness of these new tools in improving primary productivity and adoption of new practices. A new research project from the Cooperative Research Centre for Sheep Industry Innovation (Sheep CRC) will evaluate the use of smartphone apps in the industry and producer attitudes towards these tools, in order to ensure future tools and... Click Here To Read Full Article »
Ram team records unlock the secrets to better breeding
Keeping accurate records of his ram teams has allowed South Gippsland second-cross lamb producer Paul O’Sullivan to benchmark his business against industry averages and to refine his genetic selections to take flock productivity to the next level. Mr O’Sullivan was impressed by the benchmarking capabilities of the new RamSelect Plus app when it was launched at LambEx by the Cooperative Research Centre for Sheep Industry... Click Here To Read Full Article »
Sheep breeders rush to RamSelect Plus
Sheep breeders are embracing RamSelect Plus in droves, with close to 4000 rams from 60 different studs listed on the site since the start of July. And there are already over twice the number of registered users than there were at the end of the 2015 ram-selling season. Sheep CRC chief executive James Rowe said the early-season figures were a strong endorsement of the need for easy-to-use applications that provide personalised... Click Here To Read Full Article »
UNE app development team leads the way for the sheep industry
The team behind the popular web-based app RamSelect Plus is already turning its attention to finding new solutions to the data challenges facing the sheep industry. The next project on the cards for the University of New England (UNE) Agile App team is to develop an early intervention sheep management app for the Cooperative Research Centre for Sheep Industry Innovation (Sheep CRC) so that producers can ensure all animals in... Click Here To Read Full Article »
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