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One of the most significant physiological challenges to neonatal and juvenile ruminants is the development and establishment of the rumen. Using a subset of RNA-Seq data from our high-resolution atlas of gene expression in sheep ( Ovis aries ) we have provided the first comprehensive characterisation of transcription of the entire the gastrointestinal (GI) tract during the transition from pre-ruminant to ruminant. The dataset comprises 168 tissue samples from sheep at four different time points (birth, one week, 8 weeks and adult). Using network cluster analysis we illustrate how the complexity of the GI tract is reflected in tissue- and developmental stage-specific differences in gene expression. The most significant transcriptional differences between neonatal and adult sheep were observed in the rumen complex. Differences in transcription between neonatal and adult sheep were particularly evident in macrophage specific signatures indicating they might be driving the observed developmental stage-specific differences. Comparative analysis of gene expression in three GI tract tissues from age-matched sheep and goats revealed species-specific differences in genes involved in immunity and metabolism. This study improves our understanding of the transcriptomic mechanisms involved in the transition from pre-ruminant to ruminant. It highlights key genes involved in immunity, microbe recognition, metabolism and cellular differentiation in the GI tract. The results form a basis for future studies linking gene expression with microbial colonisation of the developing GI tract and will contribute towards identifying genes that underlie immunity in early development, which could be utilised to improve ruminant efficiency and productivity.

Original publication




Journal article


G3 : Genes, Genomes, Genetics


Genetics Society of America

Publication Date