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Rare mutant sheep with straight, silky wool

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A rare mutant sheep with straight, silky wool is helping unravel the mysteries of human hair. When a farmer in Otago, New Zealand, saw a bizarre-looking lamb in his flock, he first assumed a wild goat had snuck in and impregnated one of his ewes. The newborn had a lamb-shaped body yet was coated with straight, lustrous wool, more like the hair of an angora goat than a typical sheep. News of the “geep” (or sheep-goat hybrid) soon reached the local papers but, when scientists saw photos, they immediately suspected the baby animal was something else. For decades they had been hoping to study a rare woolly mutant called a “Felting Lustre” mutant: a sheep which has straight, fine wool instead of the usual crimped stuff.

“You can see it when the lambs are born, they have a different sheen,” says Jeff Plowman, a wool researcher at New Zealand’s AgResearch science company. “It doesn’t have a dull look, it’s shiny and bright.” But the naturally occurring mutants often die as lambs because of other genetic health problems with their skin, teeth and lungs. Finding one robust enough to study is difficult. This little “geep” didn’t survive its first winter; however DNA testing before it died confirmed it was 100% sheep – leaving the scientists determined to find others like it. “We started advertising around,” says Plowman.

Soon farmers from all over New Zealand were phoning the wool researchers and reporting strange lambs, only too pleased for a chance to be rid of their unwanted mutants. Even when the lustrous creatures live to adulthood they suffer from chills, and damp, matted coats, making them virtually useless as shearing animals. Eventually Plowman and his team found the sheep they had been waiting for: a mutant so tough she had already survived a winter living in the frigid hills.

 

Source: BBCB

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