THE use of in vitro fertilisation in cattle breeding has grown in popularity globally, but it is only used on a small-scale in Australia.
ART Lab Solutions founder Jeremy Thompson said, internationally, it was seen as a way of moving forward with genetic improvement.
“Multiple ovulation and embryo transfer rates have been static globally for a number of years. IVF has surpassed multiple ovulation and embryo transfer on a global level,” he said.
Professor Thompson said the areas promoting it the most were North and South America.
Globally, there are more than 600,000 cattle IVF embryos produced each year.
“In Australia, there’s 10,000 IVF embryos produced each year but that’s relatively small as there is one company in the United State that is producing 250,000 embryos annually,” Prof Thompson said.
The establishment of ART Lab Solutions built upon decades of research into assisted reproductive technologies undertaken by Prof Thompson. Based on intellectual property developed at the University of Adelaide, the company has a suite of proprietary media formulations for use in cattle IVF processes.
“My background is in cattle and human IVF and I was making my own media for own research, so I thought I may as well start providing to other people,” he said.
“Our media suite enables the development of large numbers of unfertilised cattle eggs that are recovered from cows with high genetic merit. These eggs are then fertilised, and develop to seven-day-old embryos in the laboratory, which can then either be transferred into less valuable recipient cattle, or cryopreserved for transfer at a later time.
“IVF cattle embryo development provides far more options for rapid genetic selection, to improve livestock production and health, with potential benefit to both beef and dairy farmers.”
Prof Thompson said while AI was effective for a low-cost option, it did have limitations.
“With IVF you can capture the female genetics and select for these genetics, especially if you’re using a sexed semen situation,” he said.
But, there are challenges to growing the use of IVF in Australia.
“There’s a level of skill required and more infrastructure needed. For example, you’ve got to have a laboratory, and one with more than just a few microscopes. You need incubators and you need to be careful with the environment,” he said.
“We’re actively trying to get present IVF producers to engage with others and work together, that way we can make it much more feasibleand cost-effective.”
The other challenge is expanding the IVF skills base.
“We’re talking to the University of Adelaide’s veterinarian school and there is good interest,” he said.
“We need to have more Australian vets training in this technology because the skills are different compared to ET or AI.
“You’re taking the eggs out of the follicle that is in the ovary and you need more training to get that expertise. The key is attracting younger vets coming out of vet school to look at this as an option.”
Simpler semen analysis method in development
AN easy-to-use semen quality analyser is being developed by University of Adelaide reproductive biologists, in conjunction with RMIT University optical physicists.
University of Adelaide Robinson Research Institute’s Jeremy Thompson said the smartphone-based semen analyser would offer a simple system of semen analysis to commercial producers or stud breeders.
“We will soon be able to transform cattle sperm analysis with a cost-effective device that clips onto any mobile phone,” he said.
“It would offer an easy way of semen testing, maybe following a period of resting a bull or when getting a new canister from overseas, or elsewhere in Australia, you can check if the semen is acceptable.”
Professor Thompson said the analyser was an example of the projects the university was seeking to do with funding from external sources.
“We have a funding application in to Meat & Livestock Australia, which has just got through the expression of interest phase,” he said.
”This is the type of technology that will make a difference to all cattle breeders as it will be relatively cheap to use.”
Prof Thompson said work ART Lab Solutions was doing fitted in well with industry aims, including MLA’s goal to double the annual rate of improvement in genetic value by 2022.
“We’re trying to enable that rapid genetic change to happen,” he said.