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Open Access Research article

A genomics-informed, SNP association study reveals FBLN1 and FABP4 as contributing to resistance to fleece rot in Australian Merino sheep

Wendy JM Smith13, Yutao Li1, Aaron Ingham1, Eliza Collis1, Sean M McWilliam1, Tom J Dixon13, Belinda J Norris13, Suzanne I Mortimer2, Robert J Moore4 and Antonio Reverter1*

Author Affiliations

1 CSIRO Livestock Industries, 306 Carmody Rd, St Lucia, QLD 4067, Australia

2 Industry and Investment NSW, Agricultural Research Centre, Trangie, NSW 2823, Australia

3 SheepGENOMICS, Wool Sub-Program, 306 Carmody Rd, St Lucia, QLD 4067, Australia

4 Australian Animal Health Laboratory, CSIRO Livestock Industries, Private Bag 24, Geelong, Vic. 3220, Australia

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BMC Veterinary Research 2010, 6:27  doi:10.1186/1746-6148-6-27

Published: 26 May 2010

Abstract

Background

Fleece rot (FR) and body-strike of Merino sheep by the sheep blowfly Lucilia cuprina are major problems for the Australian wool industry, causing significant losses as a result of increased management costs coupled with reduced wool productivity and quality. In addition to direct effects on fleece quality, fleece rot is a major predisposing factor to blowfly strike on the body of sheep. In order to investigate the genetic drivers of resistance to fleece rot, we constructed a combined ovine-bovine cDNA microarray of almost 12,000 probes including 6,125 skin expressed sequence tags and 5,760 anonymous clones obtained from skin subtracted libraries derived from fleece rot resistant and susceptible animals. This microarray platform was used to profile the gene expression changes between skin samples of six resistant and six susceptible animals taken immediately before, during and after FR induction. Mixed-model equations were employed to normalize the data and 155 genes were found to be differentially expressed (DE). Ten DE genes were selected for validation using real-time PCR on independent skin samples. The genomic regions of a further 5 DE genes were surveyed to identify single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNP) that were genotyped across three populations for their associations with fleece rot resistance.

Results

The majority of the DE genes originated from the fleece rot subtracted libraries and over-representing gene ontology terms included defense response to bacterium and epidermis development, indicating a role of these processes in modulating the sheep's response to fleece rot. We focused on genes that contribute to the physical barrier function of skin, including keratins, collagens, fibulin and lipid proteins, to identify SNPs that were associated to fleece rot scores.

Conclusions

We identified FBLN1 (fibulin) and FABP4 (fatty acid binding protein 4) as key factors in sheep's resistance to fleece rot. Validation of these markers in other populations could lead to vital tests for marker assisted selection that will ultimately increase the natural fleece rot resistance of Merino sheep.