Unique methods from Professor Evelyn Telfer’s group allows the maturation of oocytes in the laboratory. This technique could prove an invaluable tool for improving the reproductive potential of superior cows, shortening generation times, and improving the rate of genetic gain.
Slow breeding, low genetic gain, and infertility cause significant problems in any livestock breeding programme. Currently, in the UK, one in two cows are expected to produce a healthy calf, with infertility costing £340 per cow, per year. While artificial insemination is capable of selecting and promoting the fertility of superior bulls, it is not as simple for cows. Current oocyte harvesting techniques affect the long-term fertility of cows, are not cost-effective, and have potential welfare issues. A method to improve superior cow fertility and reproduction could be a boon for cattle breeding.
Professor Telfer’s research has shown that it is possible to take immature bovine ovarian cells and produce mature oocytes. Using a three-step culture process oocytes reached metaphase II of meiosis and successfully produced polar bodies. This is the first time this has been achieved in the laboratory.
This technique could be used to improve cattle breeding through various means. Primarily, it will be able to increase the reproductive potential of superior cows by increasing the volume of viable oocytes for fertilisation. We also believe this technology can reduce generation time by maturing oocytes from both pre-and post-pubertal cows. This in turn can improve the rate of genetic gain in the breeding programme.
The technology could be used to facilitate an oocyte or embryo bank, similar to the bull semen companies that currently exist.
Please note, the header image is purely illustrative.