Sheep 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.

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News Releases

RamSelect drives demand at Ella Matta ram sale
The genetic selection app RamSelect was a key plank of the promotional platform for the Ella Matta White Suffolk and Merino stud which recorded its best-ever sale results late last year. The Kangaroo Island stud recorded its highest grossing sale, its highest ever top-priced ram at $16,000, and an improved overall average of $1459 / ram, despite increasing its sale offering by more than 10% to 200 White Suffolks, 40 Poll... Click Here To Read Full Article »
MERINOSELECT now mainstream practice and growing fast
Use of the objective genetic assessment tool, Australian Sheep Breeding Values (ASBVs), has grown so rapidly in the Merino industry in the last five years that close to 50% of all Merino rams are now sold by studs that are members of MERINOSELECT. Recent analysis by the Cooperative Research Centre for Sheep Industry Innovation (Sheep CRC) reveals that studs in MERINOSELECT now provide around half of the Merino rams used by... Click Here To Read Full Article »
DNA Flock Profile test takes gut feel out of farming
DNA testing has taken the guesswork out of breeding for Victorian sheep mixed farmer Todd Martin, who now has a clear picture of how his flock compares to the rest of the industry and the decisions he needs to make to improve its performance. Click Here To Read Full Article »
DNA Flock Profile cements the foundations for new flock
Developing a flock with the right mix of genetics can take generations to perfect, but DNA testing has put Geelong sheep and wool producer Jack Briscoe on the fast track to success. Mr Briscoe is only a year into breeding his own Merino flock after branching out from his sheep contracting business by cobbling together a mixture of 800 home-bred and yard-bought ewes as his breeding base. Click Here To Read Full Article »
RamSelect keeps track of flock performance at Parkes
The RamSelect app is not only assisting with better genetic decisions for the Dunn family of Parkes, NSW, but also assisting with their inventory management and industry benchmarking activities. The Dunn family, trading as Reedy Creek Partners, operates a mixed farming enterprise between Manildra and Parkes, and has been using the app since it was first launched in 2015 to assist with their ram selections. Click Here To Read Full Article »
Faster sheep DNA testing with new Australian GeneSeek lab
Sheep breeders using DNA testing to improve their genetic selections can look forward to faster turnaround times for test results thanks to Neogen Corporation’s decision to establish a genomic testing laboratory within Australia. GeneSeek Australasia, a wholly owned subsidiary of United States-based parent company Neogen, has acquired the assets of the Animal Genetics Laboratory (AGL), based at the Gatton campus of the... Click Here To Read Full Article »
Dramatic increase in early season searches on RamSelect
Inquiry for rams through RamSelect has never been stronger with a dramatic increase in the number of buyers searching the site so far this season compared to last year. More than 1129 ram searches were conducted on RamSelect during July, compared to just 154 at the same time last year. Click Here To Read Full Article »
DNA testing to drive new era of ewe competitions
The traditional ewe competition is set to enter the innovation era with the inclusion of DNA Flock Profile tests as part of next year’s Doug Bicket Memorial Ewe trial in Parkes, NSW. The Cooperative Research Centre for Sheep Industry Innovation (Sheep CRC) will provide DNA profiling for all flocks entering the 2018 competition, currently valued at $800 plus GST per flock, as a means of supporting improved genetic selection... Click Here To Read Full Article »
The predictive power of ASKBILL immortalised in song
An off-the-cuff comment and a spur of the moment decision to “have a go” have resulted in the sheep industry’s new predictive app, ASKBILL, being brought to life in song by Uralla musician Rhonda Brooks. Performed in a bush ballad style by Coffs Harbour musician Mal Winckle, the track is proving a popular addition to the ASKBILL website, helping to capture producers’ imagination as to the possibilities on offer... Click Here To Read Full Article »
RamSelect moves towards commercial business model
The popular RamSelect app will move to a commercial funding model ahead of this season’s ram sales, as a first step towards ensuring the genetic selection tool’s financial viability and availability to producers in the long-term. RamSelect Plus is an easy to use web-based application,, which allows ram buyers to find and rank rams based on Australian Sheep Breeding Values (ASBVs) that match their own... Click Here To Read Full Article »
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