A variety of animal quality traits, particularly those associated with meat and wool production and disease resistance, have been the subject of sophisticated genetic analyses. Investigation of the biochemistry and physiology underlying disease or production traits has implicated particular proteins and hence genes as "candidates" for having major phenotypic effects. This makes the candidate gene approach a useful complement to animal genome mapping of markers and QTLs. We have applied the candidate gene approach for the sheep quality traits of meat tenderness and footrot resistance. A three allele system detected by polymerase chain reaction - single strand conformational polymorphism (PCR-SSCP) has been observed for the ovine calpastatin gene. Calpastatin is the specific inhibitor of the ubiquitous calcium-dependent proteases u-calpain and m-calpain. There is very strong population genetic and protein assay data in cattle to inversely correlate post-mortem calpastatin levels with meat tenderness. Assay of post-mortem calpastatin levels in aging lamb confirms an important regulatory role for calpastatin in sheep meat aging. Data sets from preliminary experiments testing the association of the three allele ovine calpastatin system with meat tenderness values and other meat quality characteristics show significantly different fillet tenderness, early post-mortem calpastatin and u-calpain levels between ewes with different calpastatin genotypes. The early post-mortem calpastatin levels and the longissimus dorsi pH at 24 hr post-mortem of sheep representing two different genotypes was also significantly different. The major histocompatibility (MHC) proteins of vertebrates have a role in presenting peptide fragments from pathogenic organisms to the systemic immune system. It is hypothesised that a component of resistance in sheep to footrot is based on an effective systemic immune response and hence controlled by MHC presentation. Sixteen alleles have been identified at the ovine MHC class II DQA2 locus and 8 at the DQA1 locus. A significant (p=0.001) association between footrot status and DQA2 genotype was observed in a halfsib family challenged with the disease under standardised field conditions.

BR, Palmer, JGH Hickford, and R Bickerstaffe

Proceedings of the New Zealand Society of Animal Production, Volume 57, , 294-296, 1997
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