SYDNEY, Australia - Australian researchers have launched a search for the country's ugliest sheep _ no matter how wrinkled, lumpy, bald or just plain funny looking _ to try to identify genes that produce high quality wool.
"When something goes really wrong with the genes, it is the most powerful indicator about where to look to identify the genes that can _ paradoxically _ make things go really right," said Paul Hynd, a researcher from the University of Adelaide, which launched the study with the South Australian Research and Development Institute this week.
Australia's merino wool industry is worth about 2.8 billion Australian dollars (US$2.1 billion) each year. Scientists hope to use the study to produce higher quality wool to compete with increasingly popular synthetic fibers.
"Through the latest DNA-based technology, it's the ugly sheep that will help us make quantum leaps to advance the qualities of Australian merino wool to make it more stretchy, less scratchy, shinier and easier to spin," Hynd said in a statement issued Tuesday.
These so-called ugly merinos _ ones born with rough, uneven or extra-curly wool, bald patches, or even very wrinkled skin _ are often culled shortly after birth because of their inability to produce good wool. Instead, researchers are asking farmers to donate their unusual sheep or wool clippings to the study.
"These lambs, typically viewed as worthless, are in fact highly valuable to the industry, because one of the most efficient ways to identify the genes that impact on certain wool traits is to study animals that have rare or extreme features," Hynd said.
Australians Try to Find Ugliest Sheep