Program 5

Improved wool quality and production efficiency by sheep transgenesis

Program Manager: Prof George Rogers, Honorary Visiting Research Fellow, Department of Animal Science, The University of Adelaide, Waite Campus, Glen Osmond, SA


Wool has many advantages as a textile fibre but compared with cotton and synthetic fibres its market share is small and under constant threat from their continuing development. The wool fibre has certain deficiencies that hamper its ability to compete as a textile fibre. One of these deficiencies is its inherent weakness. Cotton, silk and nylon are 2-3 times stronger than wool. One of the ways to increase the strength of wool would be to alter the composition and internal molecular structure of the fibre.

Transgenesis allows us to markedly change the composition and properties of the fibre in ways that are not possible by breeding methods. It requires the microinjection of DNA carrying the chosen gene into fertilised eggs and the application of many skills, namely molecular biology for the isolation of genes, cell biology for the development of cell and follicle culture for the pre-testing of genes, reproductive biology and animal husbandry. This technology, by specifically targeting the expression of selected genes to the wool follicles, can alter sheep genotypes and phenotypes in respect of many physical characteristics of wool and has the potential for enormous economic benefit in the wool industry.

Australia’s first ever cloned sheep, named Matilda, was unveiled by the South Australian Research & Development Institute (SARDI). The Program Manager of Program 5 in the Cooperative Research Centre for Premium Quality Wool Professor George Rogers was a key player in the cloning project. Commonwealth Funding for the project was through the Wool CRC.