James Kijas

By March 15th, 2011


James Kijas obtained his BSc with Honours from Flinders University, Adelaide, South Australia, and his PhD also from Flinders University. His honours project focused on forensic science while his doctoral studies focused on plant molecular genetics, completing a project in 1996 in collaboration with CSIRO’s then Division of Horticulture.

He followed his doctoral studies with a postdoctoral position at the Swedish University of Agricultural Science in Uppsala, Sweden where he investigated the genetic basis of pig coat colour and disease in dogs.

In 2000, he joined the Baker Institute for Animal Health at Cornell University in New York, United States where as a Research Associate he investigated the molecular basis of inherited blindness in dogs, which led to studies using the dog as an animal model to trial potential gene therapies for degeneration of sight in humans.

He joined CSIRO Livestock Industries in 2003 to investigate molecular genetics in sheep in an effort to genetically improve the national flock. He is a member of the livestock genetic improvement research team, based at the Queensland Bioscience Precinct in Brisbane, Queensland.

Research interests at CSIRO

His CSIRO research focuses on sheep genetics, attempting to identify those genes that underpin economically-important traits and develop new tools that will assist sheep producers in selecting for superior stock.

Dr Kijas’s research effort is focused on three projects:

  • analysis of genetic variation within the sheep genome; by identifying and cataloguing the hundreds of thousands of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), the researchers aim to develop a research tool that will dramatically speed up the gene discovery process in sheep
  • quantitative trait mapping in sheep; by identifying DNA markers associated with beneficial carcass traits, such as increased muscling and decreased fat, CSIRO researchers aim to improve the selection tools available to the sheep industry
  • analysis of sheep diversity by investigating the phylogentics of sheep breeds with the aim of: increasing the understanding the genetic diversity in today’s commercial sheep populations and determining how breeds have developed following domestication of sheep from their wild ancestors.

James, along with CSIRO’s Dr Brian Dalrymple, is part of the International Sheep Genomics Consortium (ISCG) – a group that aims to coordinate the activities of international research groups developing genomic tools for the sheep research community. Under the auspices of the ISCG, James is involved in a number of major sheep genomics activities including:

  • the construction of the virtual sheep genome
  • the genome-wide SNP discovery project for sheep
  • sequencing the sheep genome to a depth of threefold.

Drs Kijas, Dalrymple and Townley coordinated, on behalf of ISGC, a pilot project which tested 3 000 sheep genomic regions for the presence of SNPs. Completed in January 2007, this was the first large set of ovine (sheep) SNPs and the first genome-wide survey of genetic variation performed for the sheep genome. This data set will be used for the first sheep SNP chip experiment.

He is also active in SheepGenomics – a A$30 million joint initiative of Australian Wool Innovation Limited (AWI) and Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA), working together with 11 leading research organisations from Australia and New Zealand, which aims to:

  • discover sheep genes and their functions
  • provide new tools for producers enabling them to increase the rate of genetic change in their flocks
  • improve productivity and product quality of wool fibre and meat
  • improve reproduction
  • produce better host resistance to parasites.

In a sheep quantitative trait loci (QTL) mapping project, James Kijas and his colleagues confirmed the presence of a mutation within a number of Australian breeds which has a beneficial effect on meat muscling and leanness. Work is continuing to characterise the effects of this mutation for use by Texel and White Suffolk breeders.

James Kijas was appointed as Associate Editor of Animal Genetics, the official journal of the International Society for Animal Genetics, in June 2007.

Honours and awards

He was a seminal contributor to the bovine and ovine genomics research team that was awarded the CSIRO Chairman’s Medal in 2010.