A genomics-informed, SNP association study reveals FBLN1 and FABP4 as contributing to resistance to fleece rot in Australian Merino sheep

BACKGROUND: Fleece rot (FR) and body-strike of Merino sheep by the sheep blowfly Lucilia cuprina are major problems for the Australian wool industry, causing significant losses as a result of increased management costs coupled with reduced wool productivity and quality. In addition to direct effects on fleece quality, fleece rot is a major predisposing factor to blowfly strike on the body of sheep. In order to investigate the genetic drivers of resistance to fleece rot, researchers constructed a combined ovine-bovine cDNA microarray of almost 12,000 probes including 6,125 skin expressed sequence tags and 5,760 anonymous clones obtained from skin subtracted libraries derived from fleece rot resistant and susceptible animals. This microarray platform was used to profile the gene expression changes between skin samples of six resistant and six susceptible animals taken immediately before, during and after FR induction. Mixed-model equations were employed to normalise the data and 155 genes were found to be differentially expressed (DE). Ten DE genes were selected for validation using real-time PCR on independent skin samples. The genomic regions of a further 5 DE genes were surveyed to identify single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNP) that were genotyped across three populations for their associations with fleece rot resistance. RESULTS: The majority of the DE genes originated from the fleece rot subtracted libraries and over-representing gene ontology terms included defence response to bacterium and epidermis development, indicating a role of these processes in modulating the sheep’s response to fleece rot. Researchers focused on genes that contribute to the physical barrier function of skin, including keratins, collagens, fibulin and lipid proteins, to identify SNPs that were associated to fleece rot scores. CONCLUSIONS: Researchers identified FBLN1 (fibulin) and FABP4 (fatty acid binding protein 4) as key factors in sheep’s resistance to fleece rot. Validation of these markers in other populations could lead to vital tests for marker assisted selection that will ultimately increase the natural fleece rot resistance of Merino sheep. The report is from CSIRO Livestock Industries, St Lucia, Queensland, Australia.

Smith WJ, Li Y, Ingham A, et al. BMC Vet Res 2010; 6:27.

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