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Aust J Biol Sci. 1984;37(3):163-89.

Reproductive biology of the Booroola Merino sheep.


This paper reviews the genetic and physiological characteristics of the Booroola Merino, one of the four most prolific sheep breeds in the world, and which was acquired by CSIRO in 1958 from a commercial sheep property, 'Booroola', Cooma, N.S.W. The exceptional prolificacy of this genotype--e.g. mean flock ovulation rate in 1982 of 4.2 (range 1-10) and mean litter size of 2.5 (range 1-7)--is largely attributable to a single gene (F) of uncertain origin which increases ovulation rate. Crosses of the Booroola with other Merinos produce progeny which have a 47-87% increase in ovulation rate, a 45-56% increase in litter size at birth, and a 1-33% reduction in lamb survival relative to control Merinos. This represents a 16-37% increase in the number of lambs weaned per ewe joined in favour of the Booroola crosses. The exact site of action of the F gene is not well established, although it is expressed primarily at the ovary, where more than the normal number of follicles mature and ovulate each oestrous cycle. This may result from some abnormality of the Booroola follicle itself or it may reflect differences in Booroola gonadotrophin secretion. There is some evidence that Booroola ewes have elevated plasma concentrations of follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) early in life and during the oestrous cycle, and that FSH concentrations in the pituitary gland and urine of the adult ewe are also high. These elevated FSH levels in the adult are attributed to an ovarian feedback deficiency, probably because the inhibin content of the Booroola ovary is only one-third that of normal Merino ovaries. The low inhibin content appears to be due to Booroola follicles having significantly fewer granulosa cells than control Merinos. Analogous studies of the prolific D'man sheep of Morocco point to FSH as the main correlate of prolificacy. The testis growth rate, testis size and total daily production of spermatozoa of the Booroola ram are similar to those of normal Merinos, as also are the endocrine characteristics of adult rams. The Booroola gene's expression is evidently sex-limited. Several theories concerning the mode of action of the F gene are being tested.

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