COMMERCIAL DNA testing of sheep could be available by next year's lambing season.
That's according to James Rowe, head of the Sheep Co-operative Research Centre.
Prof Rowe's prediction follows recent results from the second pilot genomics project where the DNA of 720 registered Merino, terminal and maternal rams had been compared with the known traits of the Sheep CRC's 8000-ewe information nucleus flock.
The latest results were able to confirm whether a Merino ram carried a gene for pollness, horns or both.
The DNA testing of young rams, preferably at weaning, will enhance the accuracy of traits expressed as Australian Sheep Breeding Values, which are derived by objective measurements.
Prof Rowe said a DNA test would improve the accuracy between 5-15 per cent for traits that were objectively measured, such as greasy fleece weight, fibre diameter, staple strength, growth rates, eye muscle and fat depth.
But he said the additional advantage was DNA testing would be able to determine a ram's propensity for the hard-to-measure traits such as lifting meat yield, improving eating quality and withstanding or resisting worms.
In DNA testing, the traits when used in conjunction with ASBVs had been assigned a Research Breeding Value, though Prof Rowe said once the DNA testing was commercially available, the RBVs would be incorporated into ASBVs in Lambplan and MerinoSelect.
Commercial DNA testing would provide the sheep industry with the same genetic technologies currently used in dairy and pigs.
As to likely licensing arrangement with a commercial partner or company, Prof Rowe said they were matters still on the table.
He said the uptake of technology would also depend on the testing costs.
He said tests conducted by the Sheep CRC were costing $200 for a 50,000 chip of single nucleotide polymorphisms, though he expected this would fall sharply with volume and further developments in SNP chip technology.
New Zealand Romney, Perendale and Coopworth breeders can access DNA testing from Pfizer for NZ$500 a test, after such tests were launched last year at NZ$1000.