How did we domesticate sheep and goats?

Wild and domestic goats have genomes sequenced to better understand genetic effects of domestification

How did we domesticate sheep and goats?

6 Mar 2018 - 15:36


  • For millennia, humans have been breeding animals to suit their needs 
  • Traits such as tameness, rapid growth and stamina are particularly desirable for livestock  
  • Analysis shows that, despite similarities in various regions of the genome, the same characteristics in sheep and goats can result from different patterns of gene selection

Researchers at the European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI), the University Grenoble Alpes and collaborators have found that similar characteristics in sheep and goats can result from different patterns of gene selection. The study, published in Nature Communications, sequenced and analysed for the first time the genomes of the wild Asiatic mouflon and the Bezoar ibex, comparing them to those of domestic sheep and goats.

About 11,000 years ago, humans started coaxing animals into their settlements, gradually breeding them to better suit human needs. Traits such as tameness, rapid growth and stamina have proven especially popular for domestication. One thing that remains unclear to this day is the genetic basis for these different traits. As more domesticated animals have their genomes sequenced, answers start to emerge about how these beasts went from wild animal to tame companion.

For this study, researchers travelled to Iran and Morocco to sequence wild and domestic breeds of sheep and goats. They compared the data with a third domestic group comprising a worldwide panel of breeds used mostly in industrial agriculture.

“We found 20 common genomic regions related to domestication, but the patterns of gene selection significantly vary between sheep and goats,” explains Laura Clarke, paper author and now Human Cell Atlas Coordinator at EMBL-EBI. “This suggests that different ‘genetic solutions’ have given rise to similar characteristics in sheep and goats. We never expected the domestication process to be so different in species that are so similar. Genome sequencing and improved methods for assembling whole DNA sequences could one day help researchers understand and improve animal breeding.”

Source article

ALBERTO, F., et al. (2018). Convergent genomic signatures of domestication in sheep and goats. American Journal of Psychiatry. Published online 6 March; DOI: 10.1038/s41467-018-03206-y


This project was funded by EC FP7 framework programme, Grant Agreement Number 244356.

Contact the news team

Oana Stroe
Communications Officer
+44 (0)1223 494 369

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