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Sheep Gene Study Traces Black Welsh Mountain Breed Back to Vikings

26 June 2015

WALES – Studying the genetic history of native Welsh sheep breeds has unearthed details about their origins and the social history of ancient people.

Genomic maps of eighteen native breeds have, amongst other findings, traced Black Welsh Mountain Sheep back to Norse invaders from Scandinavia and the Llandovery White Face back to the colonisation of Britain by Romans.

The information, collected in a three year joint study from The Royal Veterinary College, University of London and Aberystwyth University, has been added to the International Sheep Genome Consortium project.

By analysing 353 individual animals’ whole-genomes, Dr Denis Larkin said the understanding of Welsh sheep history had been “greatly improved”.

He said: “Our data suggests common ancestry between the native Welsh and various European breeds. But the Welsh breeds are also highly diverse for such a low to moderate population size, forming at least four distinct genetic groups”.

PhD researcher, Sarah Beynon, from Aberystwyth University who performed the research added: “These findings provide the basis for future genome-wide association studies and a first step towards developing genomics assisted breeding strategies in the UK.”

One breed illustrated population migration from Ireland and the Welsh coast around 200 years ago, academics said. 

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