Scientists studying sheep?

23 December 2013

Interview with

Professor Russell Snell, Auckland University

Hannah -   Scientists are studying this remarkable brain, this remarkable gene and how it's involved in leading to Huntington's with these expansions of the CAG repeats in quite unusual and remarkable animals......

Russell -   Yeah, why sheep?  I grew up in a farm in New Zealand.  Sheep are Dolly the sheepdocile, but also intelligent.  They've got big brains.  I could see models wondering around a paddock, eating grass and living an ordinary sheep life until we wanted to look at their brains.  And so, it seemed to me, at least for these slight onset neurodegenerative diseases or Huntington's disease, is that we could make an ethical model where they live a normal sheep life until they don't, if that makes sense.  So, that is just the ethical line that I draw.  We knew something about the sheep brain structure and actually how to manage them in a farming situation.  We're good at looking after sheep.  We're good at understanding sheep.  So, it's a combination of things.  The sheep genome or the sheep gene is a little bit closer to human.  Also, we knew that we could do behavioural things for sheep because sheep have behaviours or we imagine we could but Jenny has really taken it to a major different level.  Well, she's done an incredible job there.

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