Sheep wool is predominantly composed of keratin proteins. These comprise keratin intermediate filament proteins embedded in a matrix of smaller keratin associated proteins. As a result of polymorphisms and post-translational modifications, these proteins display many more family members than there are genes. Recent studies using improved gene expression, electron tomography and proteomic techniques have provided useful preliminary data on the association of keratins with certain fibre properties. Current research is quantifying keratin gene expression in the skin and the consequent wool protein compositional differences between breeds of divergent fibre and fleece characteristics. A detailed understanding of the control of keratin gene expression and fibre protein composition arising from these and other studies will provide the foundation for the development of novel high-value wool types, solubilised keratins for specialised cosmetic applications and reconstituted keratin polymers for biomedical applications.
Proceedings of the New Zealand Society of Animal Production, Volume 66, Napier, 133-139, 2006
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