Sheep gene research sheds light on human condition - ectodermal dysplasia

Sheep gene research at the University of Adelaide's Roseworthy Campus aimed at helping maximise wool production for Australian producers, has shed light on a human genetic hair and skin disorder.

PhD student Hayley McGrice has won this year's SARDI Suffrage Science Bursary for her research into the genes and molecular signals which affect wool follicle formation in lambs.

Her research has used novel techniques to investigate which specific genes are turned on and off during key points of the wool follicle formation. Two of the genes measured in this way are known to be important in the human genetic condition, ectodermal dysplasia. People with this genetic condition are often born with extremely sparse hair and have abnormal or missing teeth and poorly developed sweat glands.

“Wool follicles are only initiated once during any mammal's life so if we can determine which genes or pathways are responsible, we can manipulate the development of follicles – perhaps producing many more wool follicles - so as to maximise the lifetime wool producing potential of sheep,” Ms McGrice

“Because of the similarity of hair and wool follicle initiation across mammals, these findings are relevant to research in human hair conditions. Mutations in two of the genes I have measured have been previously established as causative in ectodermal dysplasia. My work has shown how these genes are important in the formation of wool follicles and the signalling processes involved, and thus may benefit further research into this hair disorder.”

Ms McGrice said this fundamental research into the genes and pathways involved in wool follicle initiation could lead to the production of pharmaceuticals or food additives with the potential to increase the number of follicles initiated during development, or increase the rate of wool growth. Similarly it could lead to benefits for human hair conditions such as ectodermal dysplasia.

The SARDI bursary will help Ms McGrice attend the 5th International Congress of Hair Research in Vancouver in June to present her findings.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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