Revealing the history of sheep domestication using retrovirus integrations

Science. 2009 Apr 24;324(5926):532-6. doi: 10.1126/science.1170587.


The domestication of livestock represented a crucial step in human history. By using endogenous retroviruses as genetic markers, we found that sheep differentiated on the basis of their "retrotype" and morphological traits dispersed across Eurasia and Africa via separate migratory episodes. Relicts of the first migrations include the Mouflon, as well as breeds previously recognized as "primitive" on the basis of their morphology, such as the Orkney, Soay, and the Nordic short-tailed sheep now confined to the periphery of northwest Europe. A later migratory episode, involving sheep with improved production traits, shaped the great majority of present-day breeds. The ability to differentiate genetically primitive sheep from more modern breeds provides valuable insights into the history of sheep domestication.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animal Husbandry / history*
  • Animals
  • DNA
  • Endogenous Retroviruses / genetics*
  • Genetic Markers
  • History, Ancient
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Polymorphism, Genetic
  • Population Dynamics
  • Retroviridae / genetics
  • Sheep* / classification
  • Sheep* / genetics
  • Sheep* / virology
  • Sheep, Domestic* / classification
  • Sheep, Domestic* / genetics
  • Sheep, Domestic* / virology
  • Virus Integration


  • Genetic Markers
  • DNA

Associated data

  • GENBANK/AF136224
  • GENBANK/EE680319
  • GENBANK/EF680298
  • GENBANK/EF680299
  • GENBANK/EF680300
  • GENBANK/EF680301
  • GENBANK/EF680306