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News

Wool Fibre Research Branches Out

CSIRO : 17 October, 2006  (Technical Article)
New research into the molecular events that underlie wool development could improve wool production and profits, according to CSIRO Livestock Industries scientist, Dr Graham Cam.
Dr Cam is investigating whether the genetic basis of 'secondary' wool follicle development, and a phenomenon known as 'branching', can eventually be used to produce more fine-grade wool.

He says the most valuable part of a fleece is formed by wool fibres originating from secondary follicles.

'Unlike primary follicles, secondary follicles produce the finer, softer fibres prized by wool growers and fashion houses. Some of these secondary follicles develop a series of side branches, which also produce fine fibres.

'Secondary follicles can form between one and nine branches, depending on the breed of sheep and individual animal, and sometimes there are even branches off the branches,' Dr Cam says.

'We want to identify the genes and molecular mechanisms that allow some secondary follicles, and not others, to produce these branches, and to understand the basic biology underlying secondary follicle initiation and development.'

Studies have shown that sheep with finer wool have a greater percentage of branched follicles. However, as many as 25 per cent of these branched follicles may not mature to produce fibres.

'If we can understand the molecular events that enable some secondary follicles to branch, we may be able to intervene during the process and significantly increase fibre production and, in the longer term, reduce the average fibre diameter,' Dr Cam says.
To determine how branched follicles form, Dr Cam and his colleagues will share foetal skin samples from the University of Adelaide/SARDI to study the patterns of gene expression in the skin during foetal development.

'It is during a sheep's foetal life that the 'wool factory' is established and this is where the clues lie as to what makes profitable animals,' says Prof Phil Hynd, Adelaide University, Wool Biology subprogram leader.

'The strength of this wool research is the collaboration of scientists from leading research organisations, CSIRO, SARDI and the Universities of Sydney, Western Sydney and Adelaide.'

Funding for the project is provided under the joint Australian Wool Innovation/Meat and Livestock Australia Sheep Genomics Program.
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