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What is Genomics? A Sheep Perspective

17 March 2015

Genomics is a rapidly expanding field within livestock agriculture and sheep farmers can now benefit. But what can we select for and what is the difference between genomics and genetics?

Genomics is a term which is increasingly being used in livestock breeding, writes the Texel Sheep Society. Put simply, an organism's complete set of DNA is called its genome and virtually every single cell in the body contains a copy. Genomics is a term that was developed in the 1980s and describes the large scale sequencing and analysis of DNA.

But just what is genomics and how can we use it to further Texel breeding?

The key distinguishing feature between genomics and genetics is that genetics investigates the activity and composition of a single gene whereas genomics includes all genes and their associations in order to recognize their collective influence on the development and growth of the organism.

Researchers have improved therapies through genetic studies and could open the door on disease resistance and production levels.

Through genomics researchers aim to determine complete DNA sequences and perform genetic mapping to help understand the relationships between genes and important traits, such as disease resistance and levels of production.

A sheep genome was sequenced in June 2014 

The Texel Sheep Society writes that the knowledge about gene interactions gathered so far has led to the emergence of new areas of study such as ‘functional genomics’ where researchers try and understand the pattern of gene expression, particularly across different environmental conditions.

Importantly, the science of genomics is applicable to animals, plants and humans. Genomics are also being used in human medicine and researchers are using the tool to study the role that multiple genetic factors acting with the environment play in complex diseases.

Genome-based research has already enabled improved diagnostics, more effective therapeutic strategies and better decision-making tools for patients. Ultimately, treatments could be tailored to a patient's particular genomic makeup.

In June 2014 it was announced that researchers had sequenced the complete genome of sheep. Carried out by an international team of researchers the project took eight years to complete and involved 26 organisations across eight countries.