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Ultrasound use in genetic improvement

by: Joe Emenheiser

Ultrasound technology allows in vivo estimation of carcass composition. Successful genetic evaluation of ultrasonic measures depends upon technician certification guidelines and a viable common-endpoint adjustment strategy for field data.

Four technicians and three image interpreters ultrasonically evaluated 172 lambs to determine accuracy and repeatability of loin eye area (LEA), backfat thickness (BF), and body wall thickness (BW) estimations. Correlations between ultrasonic and carcass measurements were 0.66, 0.78, and 0.73 for LEA, BF, and BW, respectively. Performance was similar among technicians and interpreters. Mean bias ranged from

-1.30 to -2.66 cm2, -0.12 to -0.17 cm, and 0.14 to -0.03 cm, for LEA, BF, and BW, respectively; prediction standard errors ranged from 1.86 to 2.22 cm2, 0.12 to 0.14 cm, and 0.35 to 0.38 cm, respectively. Repeatability standard errors ranged from 1.61 to 2.45 cm2, 0.07 to 0.11 cm, and 0.36 to 0.42 cm for LEA, BF, and BW, respectively.

Changes in ultrasonic measurements were evaluated using seven serial scans on 24 growing Suffolk ram lambs. All equations had similar goodness of fit. Equations were tested on other populations, including similarly-managed rams across breeds and years and ewe lambs fed for slower gain. Correlations between predicted and actual measures ranged from 0.78 to 0.87 for BF and 0.66 to 0.93 for LEA in winter-born rams, were only slightly lower in fall-born rams, and ranged from 0.72 to 0.74 for BF and 0.54 to 0.76 for LEA in ewe lambs. Of the equations tested, linear and allometric forms appear best for general use.

  • Differential gene expression and immune regulatory mechanisms in parasite-resistant hair and susceptible wool sheep infected with the parasitic nematode Haemonchus contortus (Kathryn MacKinnon)

Among sheep producers, the parasitic nematode Haemonchus contortus is a major animal health concern. Caribbean hair sheep are more resistant than conventional wool breeds to this blood-feeding, abomasal parasite. Our objective was to determine differences in the immune response associated with parasite-resistant hair and susceptible wool lambs infected with 10,000 H. contortus and in uninfected controls. Animals were sacrificed and abomasum and lymph node tissues were collected at 3 or 27 days post-infection (PI), and for controls on day 17, 27, or 38 relative to d 0 of infected animals. Blood and fecal samples were collected throughout the study. Lower fecal egg counts, higher packed cell volumes, and heavier lymph nodes of infected hair compared to wool lambs, suggests hair lambs have increased parasite resistance. Greater tissue infiltration of eosinophils (P < 0.05) was observed in hair compared to wool sheep by 3 days PI, with no breed differences in globule leukocytes. Total serum IgA and IgE were greater in control hair versus wool sheep (P < 0.05). After 3, 5, and 21 of infection, total serum IgA (P< 0.05), total lymph node IgE (P < 0.01), but not total serum IgE were greater in hair sheep compared to wool sheep. Gene expression was measured between hair and wool lambs for abomasal and lymph node tissues using bovine cDNA microarrays and real-time RT-PCR. Microarray analysis revealed cell survival, endosome function, gut motility, and anti-coagulation pathways are important in abomasal and lymph node tissues during H. contortus infection. Immune genes, including IL-4, IL-4 Ra, IL-12 Rb1, and IL-12 Rb2, are also highly represented in abomasal or lymph node tissue of infected animals. Eleven genes were evaluated using real-time RT-PCR and included TH1 and TH2 cytokines, cytokine receptors, and IgE. Parasite infection leads to increased expression of IL-13 and IgE in both tissues and breeds when compared to control animals. Breed comparison of gene expression shows resistant hair sheep produce a stronger modified TH2-type immune response during infection. Differential cell infiltration, antibody production, and regulation of TH2 cytokines between breeds may be partially responsible for differences in parasite resistance.

  • Differential expression of immune genes upon early infection with Haemonchus contortus in hair and wool sheep (Scott Bowdridge)

This dissertation compares immune responses of resistant and susceptible sheep to infection with Haemonchus contortus during the peri-parturient period and larval stage of infection. Identification of immunological events resulting in parasite resistance in St. Croix hair sheep may provide better targets for differential gene expression analysis and eventual discovery of selectable markers for parasite resistance. Antibody levels of hair ewes and composite Dorset x Finnsheep-Rambouillet wool ewes were measured during breeding and again after parturition. Results demonstrated that hair ewes had higher levels immunoglobulin-A after infection and maintained a higher level of circulating antigen-specific antibody when compared to wool ewes. To characterize immune responses to the larval stage of infection, hair and wool lambs were sacrificed at 0, 3, 5, and 7 d after infection with H. contortus. Neutrophil migration to abomasal mucosa and lymph node development were higher in hair sheep than in wool sheep. Gene expression analysis indicated no difference in the abomasal lymph node as both breeds expressed a general T-helper cell type 2 (TH2) response. However, profound differences in TH2 responses were observed in the abomasal mucosa, where hair sheep expressed more IL-4, -13 and -33 than wool sheep. These data thus document the presence of immunological differences between the breeds. Immune responses to larval parasite infection in wool sheep are generally suppressed and may increase the magnitude and duration of infection whereas immune responses to larval infection in hair sheep was more robust and more strongly polarized towards a TH2

  • Characterization of annual hormonal patterns underlying differences in seasonality of reproduction in three selected sheep breeds; spring rebreeding of lactating ewes (Katie Jordan)

This dissertation research contained three studies. The first two studies were conducted to investigate the ability of ewes to rebreed while lactating during seasonal anestrus. Breeds studied included the Virginia Tech Out-of-season (OOS) Line, which is a wool line genetically selected to lamb in the fall, and the St. Croix, a hair breed of tropical origin thought to be lowly seasonal. When January-lambing ewes were exposed to rams while lactating in April, significantly more OOS than St. Croix ewes were marked by rams in the first 21 d and total 39 d of ram exposure (58.3 vs. 8.7%, P = 0.0003 and 95.8 vs. 43.5%, P < 0.0001). Percentages of ewes diagnosed pregnant (53.2%) and percentages of ewes lambing (41.3%) were not different between breeds. When March-lambing OOS ewes were exposed to rams while lactating in May, 52.9% of ewes were marked though only 20% of ewes exposed to rams gave birth to viable lambs. Both OOS and St. Croix ewes appear to be well suited to accelerated production systems involving 7 to 8 mo lambing intervals. However, reduction of lambing intervals to 6 to 7 mo appeared to have detrimental effects on fetal survival in OOS ewes.

In a third study, alterations in endocrine profiles associated with differing degrees of hypothalamic sensitivity to estradiol-negative feedback and changing daylength in OOS, St. Croix, and Suffolk ewes in the absence of rams were investigated for 1 yr. The results show for the first time that based on progesterone profiles from intact ewes, St. Croix ewes do not have shorter anestrous periods than ewes of wool breeds, as previously thought. Based on luteinizing hormone profiles from ovariectomized ewes treated with estradiol implants, the duration of luteinizing hormone inhibition was shorter in OOS than Suffolk ewes (68 vs. 170.2 d, P = 0.02), but was not different from that found in St. Croix ewes (124.8 d). Specific roles for thyroxine and prolactin in timing the breeding season could not be assigned. This study was the first known use of the ovariectomized, estradiol-implanted ewe model to compare degree of reproductive seasonality in different breeds.

Copenhaver Sheep Center

School of Animal Sciences
Virginia Tech
Blacksburg , VA 24061
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