Genetic shearing

SHEEP treated with a protein found in the salivary glands of male mice can shed their fleece on their own. Scientists use the protein produced artificially through genetic manipulation in a technique called biological wool harvesting. The technique has been found to be so effective nets have to be put around the sheep's body to keep its fleece from falling off (Ceres, Vol 25, No 2).

The protein works by interrupting hair growth in the sheep for 24 hours. About six weeks later, this interruption emerges as a weak point in the wool fibres and the fleece can be peeled off painlessly, according to the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation in Australia.

If the technique is found commercially viable, it will mean considerable savings because shearing accounts for 23 per cent of the cost of producing wool.