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Screening for fragile skin

White Dorper breeders and owners are hoping to eradicate a genetic disorder causing a lethal fragile skin condition among some of their drought-hardy flocks.

The disease dermatosparaxis also exists in other breeds but White Dorper breeders are the first to opt for a mass flock screening program in Australia.

"Their early adoption of a newly developed test should ensure this disease is effectively managed," NSW DPI research scientist, Dr Tracey Berg, said.

Dermatosparaxis is an inherited connective tissue disorder attributable to abnormal collagen in the skin which causes extreme skin fragility. Normal collagen provides elasticity and strength.

Dermatosparaxis most often affects lambs. They suffer tearing of the skin, usually in their inner thighs and under armpits. The severity of the condition results in death or euthanasia.

Attempts to stitch the skin usually fall apart, exacerbated when animals are handled to check the repair. Mild forms of the disease have been seen in adult sheep.

"If unchecked now, there could be a potential problem for the sheep industry in the future," Angus McTaggart, federal board president of the Dorper Sheep Breeders Society of Australia, said.

The disease has been reported elsewhere in Merino, South African White Dorper and Border Leicester-Southdown sheep.

Similar conditions occur in cattle, cats and humans (Ehlers- Danlos Syndrome type VIIC).

After Brendon ORourke and Dr Berg confirmed and defined the disorder in Australian White Dorper flocks at the Elizabeth Macarthur Agricultural Institute (EMAI) at Camden in 2006, they then developed a DNA test to screen individual sheep for the defective gene.

They developed the test in mid-2006 at the request of breeder Malcolm Green with subsequent support from the Breeders Society.

"The mutation exists in sheep from most of the Australian flocks weve tested," Dr Berg said.

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Contact: Joanne Finlay
joanne.finlay@dpi.nsw.gov.au
61-263-913-171
New South Wales Department of Primary Industries
31-Jul-2007


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