Certain variants in the growth differentiation factor 9 (GDF9) gene have major effects on the ovulation rate in sheep. The aim of this study was to analyse GDF9 variability in the Sudanese desert sheep ecotypes Ashgar, Dubasi and Watish, and to test identified variants for association with litter size. For this purpose, ewes of these ecotypes with litter size records for at least two litters were sampled. The complete GDF9 exon 2 was sequenced in a total of 28 ewes. An additional variant in exon 1 (c260G>A) was genotyped by restriction-length polymorphism analysis in 97 ewes. Differences in genotype and allele frequencies of polymorphic positions between two groups differing in litter size (only a single lamb versus more than a single lamb) were tested for significance using Fisher’s exact test. GDF9 exon 2 variants c.477G>A and c.721G>A and exon 1 variant c.260G>A were found to be polymorphic in all three sheep ecotypes. Exon 2 variants c.471C>T and c.978 A>G were polymorphic in at least one ecotype. No significant associations were observed between allele and genotype frequencies of identified variants and litter size. This suggests that GDF9 variants influencing ovulation are absent in these Sudanese sheep ecotypes, and therefore cannot be used to increase litter size within this population of sheep.
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