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GW Montgomery

Genetic maps provide a critical link between genes and phenotypes and are essential tools in the search for the genetic basis of variation in reproductive traits. Genes coding for hormones, growth factors, receptors, binding proteins, transcription factors and enzymes that influence the development and function of the reproductive axis have been assigned to genetic maps of ruminants and locations can be found in the respective genome databases. In addition, comparative information on gene structure and map location will help define the functions of essential genes. Gene locations from other species can be used because of extensive comparative links among mammalian gene maps. Large-scale projects to sequence genes and the ability to map these genes in parallel in radiation hybrid panels of different species will greatly improve the maps and our ability to translate between them. Cloning the genes responsible for genetic differences in fertility and fecundity in ruminants is likely to provide valuable clues to understanding ovarian function and germ cell development.

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GW Montgomery, SM Galloway, GH Davis, and KP McNatty

Sheep provide a valuable model for studying the genetic control of ovulation rate. Recent progress includes the identification of mutations in BMP15 (bone morphogenetic protein 15) that increase ovulation rate in heterozygous carriers and block follicular development in homozygous carriers. The genes characterized to date appear to act principally within the ovary and result in earlier maturity of granulosa cells and reduced follicular size. There may also be other sites of action, and increased FSH concentrations appear to be important in the expression of the FecB phenotype. A new locus on the X chromosome in New Zealand Coopworth sheep increases ovulation rate by about 0.4 and is maternally imprinted. Results from studies in the Cambridge and Belclare breeds indicate that further genes remain to be characterized. Finding the first mutations leading directly to variation in ovulation rate is likely to speed up the identification and molecular analysis of these other genes. There is still much to learn about follicular development and the control of litter size from genetic models in sheep.