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Aussies on lookout for ugly sheep

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Aussies on lookout for ugly sheep

SYDNEY, Australia (Reuters) -- Australian scientists have called on the country's farmers to report any ugly sheep found in their flocks.

A campaign called "Xtreme sheep" aims to study sheep with undesirable wool features to unlock the genetic makeup of the prized merino and ensure production of its high quality fleece.

The South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI) said on Tuesday its search for "Australia's ugliest merino lambs" may hold the key to securing the nation's $2.1 billion wool industry.

The institute said ugly lambs -- with uneven wool, strange fibers, clumps of wool that fall out, bare patches, no wool, or highly wrinkled skin -- are usually culled by farmers.

"Before sending them to the abattoir, we'd like farmers to talk to us first, because studying animals with extreme features offers one of the most efficient ways to find good genes that can impact on certain wool traits," project leader Simon Bawden said.

"It might seem a paradox that ugly wool may be good, but when looking through a genetic profile, the random genetic mistakes act like a flag, speeding up our search to finding genes critical to wool formation and synthesis," Bawden told reporters.

The institute hopes to the DNA study will lead to improvements in Australia's merino wool, making it stretchier, less scratchy, shinier and easier to spin, and better able to compete against synthetic fibers.

So far only 10 ugly sheep have been found this lambing season, which stretches from April to September, when statistically there could be hundreds, the institute said.


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