Edinburgh Genomics delivers sheep genome data

The sheep is an important agricultural animal, providing meat, wool and milk to human communities round the globe. The recentlypublished sheep genome heralds a new era of genomics-based improvement in sheep, allowing farmers to apply fine-grained selection to their flocks to increase productivity and improve resistance to disease. Edinburgh Genomics is proud to have been involved in the sheep genome project in collaboration with the research group of Prof. Alan Archibald (The Roslin Institute, Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, University of Edinburgh) and the International Sheep Genome Consortium. Edinburgh Genomics was involved in two key components of the sheep genome project: generating data that were used to show where and when each sheep gene was active, and sequencing the genome of a male sheep to complete the reference genome (which is from a female). Together these data contribute significantly to the goals of the sheep genome project, and will be at the centre of future efforts to use genomic information to breed healthier sheep that produce better meat, wool and milk for farmers.

An expression atlas for the sheep

For the gene activity work, Edinburgh Genomics generated over a one trillion bases of transcriptome data from forty tissues collected from a ewe, a ram and their lambs. This information was used to build up an expression atlas for the sheep, indicating where and when each gene is active. This will be invaluable in future efforts to understand the complexity of gene expression in health and disease, and in efforts to use the genome to improve production traits. The genome database for the sheep, at ENSEMBL, used Edinburgh Genomics data exclusively to identify the presence of the sheep genes. All the transcriptome data were generated in only one month using the facility’s HiSeq 2500 instruments in rapid mode and a stranded RNA-Seq protocol. Dr. Pablo Fuentes-Utrilla, next-generation sequencing team leader at Edinburgh Genomics said “It is great to see the impact of our work in the facility. Our focus on high quality processes has really paid off in defining sheep genes and their patterns of expression.”

Completing the picture with a male genome

Edinburgh Genomics also generated high-coverage genome sequence data for a male Texel sheep, to complement the reference genome produced from a female sheep. These data were used to fill in missing parts of the female assembly, including, importantly, identifying sequences from the male Y chromosome. Richard Talbot, Laboratory Operations Manager at Edinburgh Genomics said “The sheep genome initiative is the kind of project Edinburgh Genomics was built for. Working in close collaboration with geneticists and breeders, we can now really change the way sheep husbandry and breeding are performed.