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New Zealand gene test could save lambs: report
2005-11-28 00:36:20 XinhuaEnglish

WELLINGTON, Nov. 28(Xinhuanet)-- New Zealand scientists are close to commercializing a gene test that will allow farmers to breed more resilient sheep, local media Stuff reported Monday.

Merino New Zealand is expected to be the first industry group to benefit next year from what is being touted as a world first, the report said.

Merino is a high-country breed and, although helped by a later lambing season, its young are at risk from snow, sleet and biting wind-chills. Thirty-four million lambs are born in New Zealand each year, and thousands die from birth trauma, bacterial disease, ewe abandonment and an inability to withstand cold.

Sheep Council economist Rob Davison said total lamb losses wereunknown. Some farms counted them but many did not. One industry estimate was 5 percent of the lamb drop. Improving survivability by just 1 percent would give farmers an extra 20 million NZ dollars(14 million US dollars), said Davison.

The cold tolerance project grew out of a PhD study by Rachel Forrest, now a post-doctoral fellow at Lincoln University's gene marker laboratory. Forrest isolated the beta 3-adrenergic receptor(B3AR) gene, which affects the way energy is stored and used.

It triggers the release of noradrenaline, which tells the body to step up heat production.

Humans with a defective B3AR gene are prone to obesity and diabetes, studies have found.

Forrest found it could also affect the hardiness of lambs, which are born with any two of eight variants of the gene. These variants are known as alleles, and the mix is critical to survival.

A lamb with a bad genetic mix is almost four times more likely to die of the cold.

Merino New Zealand Chairman Ross Beech said the gene project had"tremendous" potential for the 700 farmers involved with the breed. Enditem

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