Sheep farming is one of the most important areas of Welsh agriculture, contributing approximately £230 million to the overall UK economy annually, and native Welsh sheep breeds are an invaluable and unique genetic resource for future breeding and conservation programs. This is the main conclusion of an open-access article published online on June 20, 2015 by BMC Genetics. The paper is titled “Population Structure and History of the Welsh Sheep Breeds Determined by Whole Genome Genotyping,” and authored by Aberystwyth University's IBERS Ph.D. student Sarah Beynon, Dr. Gancho Slavov, and Dr. Denis Larkin, formerly at IBERS and now at the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) in London. The three-year research project, sponsored under the Knowledge Economy and Skills Scholarship program and by Hybu Cig Cymru (an organization promoting the development and marketing of Welsh red meat), has mapped the genetic history of 18 native breeds of Welsh sheep and identified four genetically different subpopulations, with most mountain breeds forming a distinct, relatively similar group. Ms. Beynon, who performed the research, said: "These findings provide the basis for future genome-wide association studies and a first step towards developing genomics-assisted breeding strategies in the UK." Dr. Denis Larkin, Reader in Comparative Genomics at the RVC, who led the research said: "The genetic integrity of these native breeds and the contemporary scientific techniques of genetic selection offer breeders in Wales the opportunity to develop the commercial flocks that will be comparable to commercial breeds like Texel, but better adapted to the local environment. Many farmers believe that Welsh breeds are native and locally adapted.
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