Brain trust focused on hog, cattle embryo research

A nationwide research network on animal embryos, the first of its kind in the world, is officially funded and connected with a goal of better understanding how assisted reproductive technologies and maternal features affect cattle and swine embryos.

The research network, budgeted for $9 million for the first five years, of which $4.8 million comes from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), has two research nodes.

Within what’s been dubbed the NSERC EmbryoGENE Strategic Research Network, one node, centered on swine, will operate at the University of Alberta, while the other, focused on cattle, is at Universite Laval at Quebec City.

“We’ll be looking at the environment in which those embryos are created and are forming,” said Dr. George Foxcroft, head of the swine research node at the University of Alberta, in a recent release. “That will help us develop baseline data to determine normal embryos from which we’ll be able to develop diagnostic tools to determine an embryo’s health.”

Researchers will then look at environmental factors such as maternal nutrition and assisted reproductive technologies that influence the development of embryos.

Ultimately, the network chiefs said, research “will be able to determine the best nutrition and conditions to produce the best eggs which will produce the best embryos and the most efficient livestock.”

“Our researchers are working very closely with Université Laval and several industry partners, as the science that will be revealed during this research will have a substantial impact on the food animal industry and in the wider economy,” said research vice-president Dr. Lorne Babiuk of the University of Alberta.

The partnership “represents a unique opportunity to provide leadership on a global level with respect to assisted reproductive technologies. The discoveries that will be made will be applied and bring benefits here and around the world,” said Dr. Marc-Andre Sirard, head of the cattle research node at Universite Laval.

Assisted reproductive technologies such as artificial insemination and embryo transfer are commonly used for farm animals in Canada and around the world. In Canada, 70 per cent of swine and 100 per cent of dairy cattle are produced by artificial insemination, the network said.

Over 70 countries, including the U.S., Mexico and Russia buy embryos from Canadian swine and dairy cattle, for a total export market worth about $77 million per year.

“An understanding of how assisted reproduction technologies affect embryonic quality is critical to this part of the industry,” the group said.

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