Biotech Updates

Gene Editing Offers Better Alternative to Sheep Tail Docking

July 5, 2023

With support from the United States Department of Agriculture, a graduate student from Washington State University (WSU) will develop a gene editing strategy to shorten the tails of Suffolk sheep in lieu of tail docking.

Brietta Letham is proposing to use CRISPR-Cas9 technology to edit specific sections of the sheep genome to knock out or remove previously identified genes that are responsible for the sheep's long tails. These genes will be replaced with those found in short-tailed sheep. The strategy was already found to be successful in mice. Gene-edited sheep embryos will then be artificially transferred into female sheep that will give birth to gene-edited lambs with short tails. Letham is optimistic that the short-tail trait will be passed down to future offspring.

The method aims to reduce tail docking in sheep, a painful method to cut sheep tails. Farmers have favored short-tailed sheep because the trait lowers hygienic and health risks within their flocks. Though effective, tail docking is painful for the sheep, time-consuming, and costly for producers. Gene editing offers a solution to farmers' concerns as it promotes animal welfare, improves production efficiency, and reduces costs and labor associated with removing tails.

Learn more from WSU.

You might also like: