Researchers at the University of Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute are looking to find the exact genes within sheep that lead to wool shedding characteristics.

On Monday, Dr Emily Clark from Roslin took DNA samples from 160 young rams in Campbell Tweed’s Easycare and Wiltshire Horn flocks in Ballygally, Co Antrim.

“Around 10 years ago, work started into looking for the genetic drivers of wool shedding and it got quite close. Since then, technology has moved on and we now have more powerful technologies which let us look at genetics in more detail,” she said.

Speaking to the Irish Farmers Journal, Clark explained that by identifying the genes leading to wool shedding traits, the information can be used in breeding programmes to select for improved shedding.


This field of science is known as “genomics”. It is a word that is being used more widely in NI farming as a new ruminant genetics programme is under development which will see DNA sampling of cattle starting in 2026.

But what does genomics actually mean? And how does it differ from genetics – a word people are probably more familiar with?

“Genetics is understanding small parts of variation [in genes] that control an animal’s characteristics. Genomics is understanding all of the variation that explains an animal’s characteristics,” Clark said.

Wool shedding is the characteristic under examination in this example, but there are many other traits that are important for making decisions about sheep breeding.


“Many traits are very complex. With something like liveweight, many, many genes are involved in that. Whereas things like the presence of horns or resistance to certain diseases are controlled by a large effect gene, so it is a single gene trait,” Clark said.

She said the research carried out so far indicates that wool shedding probably involves several genes, although there may be one or two genes that are specifically driving it.

“There are a lot of studies going on in this space. How fast the technology is moving is really helping us identify more genes and identify genetic drivers,” she said.