Prickly wool may become thing of the past


Bridget Ramage is a keen knitter, and she knows there's nothing worse than a prickly yarn.

"I can't wear it around my neck it and it irritates the heebie-jeebies out of me," Ms Ramage said.

And it's that irritable feeling that scientists at Lincoln University have been trying to get to the bottom of.

"It's really coarse -- it's like sand paper. You wear that against your skin [and] in seconds, you [will] sand paper things off your skin," Lincoln University's Jon Hickford said.

Jon Hickford and his team have been looking at the DNA of sheep and found genetics makes some pricklier than others.

"It's a group of genes that we know produce the wool fibre," he said.

"Wool fibre is a whole collection of proteins -- it's one of the key genes, and it's a variation in that gene."

Prof Hickford says about 10 percent of sheep appear to carry the gene, and a simple DNA test will identify and potentially breed out of the flock.

"It's a form of a gene we can breed. That form of a gene -- some people call it a mutant gene, I just say it's a bad form -- we can breed that out of the sheep, get rid of it and have better sheep," he said.

It's great news for Untouched world founder Peri Drysdale -- she sources the highest quality merino wool for her 'Snowy Peak' range.

"It would be just amazing if we could get that guarantee -- it would be phenomenal," she said.

 "The other benefit of that would be we'd be able to take a slightly coarser micron, which would offer a better wear performance," she said.

With winter coming, wool is all the rage -- especially the good yarns that don't scratch, tickle or prickle.