Thus, the researchers stress that it will be very important to validate the gene's ability to indicate for aseasonal breeding each time the allele is bred into a new sheep population.
"I think it's very exciting we only have one gene, but it's definitely a tool that farmers can use," said Mateescu, who is now focusing on placing markers across the sheep's entire genome to more accurately determine which gene or genes directly affect the trait of aseasonal reproduction.
The allele is particularly useful for management under the STAR system, developed by Hogue and Cornell sheep farm manager Brian Magee in the early 1980s, which uses nutrition and conventional breeding techniques to reduce the time between heats. "If a ewe doesn't get pregnant when she is supposed to, instead of a year, it's only 73 days [using the STAR system] until she has another opportunity," Thonney said.
While the STAR system requires better nutrition and more farm labor to manage the lambing, each lambing event involves fewer ewes than traditional yearly lambing.
The researchers hope that the discovery of the M allele may help the STAR system adapt to consistently high levels of production without any additional risk to flock health.
|Contact: Blaine Friedlander|