Romneys in Research!
The Utah State University (USU) sheep research program is using Romneys to study cystic fibrosis. Cystic fibrosis (CF) is a genetic disorder in humans that affects the lungs and sometimes parts of the digestive system. CF is inherited as a recessive trait caused by mutations within the CFTR gene. Currently there is no known cure for CF. USU sourced a handful of Romneys from Thompson Romneys, in Tacoma, WA, which will be used in the university’s biomedical model production in order to produce a sheep that exhibits similarities to the human version of CF. This will allow a more detailed understanding of the disease and hopefully lead to better treatments and eventually a cure. The way USU is producing these models is by producing what is known as a gene knock-out, where they can cause a gene to not work properly in an organism by introducing a change in the DNA. USU has combined this knockout technology with cloning, to produce genetically identical individuals except within CFTR where some carry this single base pair change and others do not.
Their current goal is to determine if homozygous individuals (2 copies of the mutation) are non-viable because of the mutation or the cloning process. They are currently breeding these clones to the new Romney additions to produce age-matched controls (no mutation) and heterozygous individuals (1 copy of the mutation). These heterozygous clones will also be bred to each other in the hopes of creating a homozygous individual to determine if the cloning process or mutation itself is responsible for the non-viability of the homozygous individuals.
There have been several animal models generated for CF, such as the ferret, mouse, and pigs, but none have been very successful at modeling the disease. Sheep were chosen because their respiratory system is very similar to humans. Romneys were specifically chosen because a lot is known about their genome particularly where the CFTR gene is located and that makes it easier to introduce targeted changes to replicate the human DNA changes seen in CF. If all goes according to plan this sheep model of CF should serve as a useful tool for researchers investigating the disease and open the door to new treatments for patients.