A new study has examined how much an animal's characteristics are influenced by the extent to which different versions of the same genes — inherited from each parent — are active, according to an announcement from the Roslin Institute in the U.K.
According to Roslin, the study enables detailed, accurate insight into how genetic variation could influence important traits such as resistance to disease or meat production. It could also inform breeding programs for healthy livestock, the announcement said.
The researchers used data from sheep to measure the extent to which genetic variants inherited from each parent are switched on and off. Roslin said this has provided a foundation to investigate how much these differences could inform the characteristics of offspring.
The researchers applied a method originally developed for human data that eliminates inherent bias associated with measuring how much genetic variants influence the traits of offspring, the announcement said.
Their study, which examined genes from sheep derived from crosses between the Texel and Scottish blackface breeds of sheep, found that genetic variants linked to immunity were sometimes unequally active in tissues and cells linked to immune function.
"By understanding the biological processes driving certain gene variants, we can discover which parental copies of genes are more favorable, and the consequences of that, for application in breeding programs," Roslin research fellow Dr. Mazdak Salavati said.
Their findings could inform research into crossbreeding animals with better physical characteristics than their parents or to inform genomics-based breeding programs, Roslin said.
Researchers carried out the work using data from an extensive study characterizing how genes are switched on and off in all major organ systems in sheep, which was carried out by the same team from the Roslin Institute in 2017. Their latest study was published in Frontiers in Genetics.