Evolution of the sheep industry and genetic research in the United States: opportunities for convergence in the twenty-first century.
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The continuous development and application of technology for genetic improvement is a key element for advancing sheep production in the United States. The US sheep industry has contracted over time but appears to be at a juncture where a greater utilization of technology can facilitate industry expansion to new markets and address inefficiencies in traditional production practices. Significant transformations include the increased value of lamb in relation to wool, and a downtrend in large-scale operations but a simultaneous rise in small flocks. Additionally, popularity of hair breeds not requiring shearing has surged, particularly in semi-arid and subtropical US environments. A variety of domestically developed composite breeds and newly established technological approaches are now widely available for the sheep industry to use as it navigates these ongoing transformations. These genetic resources can also address long-targeted areas of improvement such as growth, reproduction and parasite resistance. Moderate progress in production efficiency has been achieved by producers who have employed estimated breeding values, but widespread adoption of this technology has been limited. Genomic marker panels have recently shown promise for reducing disease susceptibility, identifying parentage and providing a foundation for marker-assisted selection. As the ovine genome is further explored and genomic assemblies are improved, the sheep research community in the USA can capitalize on new-found information to develop and apply genetic technologies to improve the production efficiency and profitability of the sheep industry.