Sarah Beynon

Project: Resequencing and genetic profiling of native Welsh sheep breeds in lowering greenhouse gas emissions

Type: PHD

Institution: Aberystwyth University

Over generations selective breeding in livestock has resulted in well-defined breeds each with their own set of desirable characteristics. Advances in technology in addition to the availability of the sheep genome now enable us to identify the specific genes and genomic regions that govern many of these traits.

Understanding where these genes are located and how they function will allow tools to be generated which will enable individuals to be tested for variations associated with favourable traits early on. Such information could then be used in targeted breeding strategies improving productivity and efficiency.

This project aims to identify the regions of the sheep genome controlling some of the most desirable traits in the native Welsh sheep breeds such as growth rate and weight gain. To achieve this we will be taking blood samples from individuals from several different breeds and comparing the DNA sequences to identify sites of variation. We also aim to identify regions of native Welsh sheep genome influencing levels of methane emissions.

Methane is one of the most significant greenhouse gases and some of the largest producers are livestock. While diet is known to have some influence on methane production there is also genetic component with animals fed similar diets differing in emission levels. Identifying the genome regions influencing this and other significant traits will contribute to developing breeding strategies that help make sheep farming more environmentally sustainable in the future

Information on thousands of variations detected in this project will also allow us to better understand how selection has enabled different breeds to survive in a wide variety of environments and the genomic regions involved in this process. In addition it will generate a picture of how the breeds are related to each other and provide insights into the different breed histories.