Public Release: 

International collaboration explains sheep genome, secrets of unique digestive and metabolic systems

Baylor College of Medicine

HOUSTON - (June 6, 2014) -- An international team of scientists including the Human Genome Sequencing Center at Baylor College of Medicine has completed the first ever sequence of the sheep genome, shedding new information on the species' unique and specialized digestive and metabolic systems.

Sheep, a major source of meat, milk, and fiber in the form of wool, are important to the agriculture industry. This exploration of sheep genetic characteristics found features that comprise their specialized digestive systems including the rumen (the first chamber of their stomach which helps digests plant material to animal protein) and fatty acid metabolism.

The collaboration, which included 73 authors from 26 institutions across eight countries, published the work today in the journal Science.

The team identified highly expressed genes encoding proteins that may cross-link keratins (structural proteins of hair, nails, horn, hoofs, wool and feathers - the outermost layers of the skin) at the rumen surface.

Additionally, they identified changes in genes involved in lipid metabolism (fatty acids such as natural oils, waxes and steroids) and their role in wool synthesis.

The sequencing efforts of the project were conducted at the Human Genome Sequencing Center with Dr. Kim Worley, professor in the Center, as the lead investigator of the Baylor portion of the study. Worley also serves as a co-author on the report.


For more information or to interview Dr. Worley, please contact Glenna Picton at 713-798-4710 or

The collaboration included: Australia (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation; University of New England; University of Sydney); China (BGI-Shenzhen; Inner Mongolia Agricultural University; Institute of ATCG, Nei Mongol Bio-Information; Kunming Institute of Zoology; Lanzhou Institute of Husbandry and Pharmaceutical Science; Macau University of Science and Technology; North West A&F University; Sichuan Agricultural University), Denmark (University of Copenhagen); France (INRA); New Zealand (AgResearch; University of Otago); Saudi Arabia (King Abdulaziz University); The United Kingdom (Biosciences KTN; Edinburgh Genomics; European Molecular Biology Laboratory, European Bioinformatics Institute; The Roslin Institute; Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute; University of Edinburgh) and the United States (Human Genome Sequencing Center at Baylor; United States Department of Agriculture's Agriculture Research Service Animal Disease Research Unit; Utah State University and Washington State University).

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