At the end of 2017 an exciting new Danish collaboration was initiated. EliteOva, a project funded by Innovation Fund Denmark, sets out to combine and optimise the in vitro embryo production (IVP) and genomic selection of bovine embryos. The project’s overall aim is to rapidly progress the quality of dairy cows, allowing for the efficient and environmentally friendly production of Danish milk.
Top quality oocytes will be collected by ultrasound guided ovum pick-up (OPU), with subsequent production of IVP embryos using IVF Bioscience media. Biopsies from the embryos will be genotyped for estimation of breeding values, including disease resistance and resilience, as well as novel traits such as feed-efficiency and lower methane emissions. The embryos will then be transferred to recipients for the production of at least 100 calves.
A change in focus
While historically the transfer of IVP embryos has been hampered by pregnancy losses due to abnormal epigenetic programming, this project will focus on changing this story. The embryos and calves produced will be studied meticulously for epigenetic and transcriptomic aberrations and phenotypic characteristics, in order to ensure their health and quality.
“With this project, an old dream has finally materialised, based on several decades of basic research within reproductive biology, for the benefit of Danish cattle breeding. Europe’s first IVF calf was born in Copenhagen in 1987 as the result of several years of research, and now we can finally translate this knowledge to the benefit of the Danish society”
Professor Poul Hyttel
The project’s participants include leading Danish universities and key commercial groups, as well as inputs from Germany, the USA and Canada. Some of the associated researchers, Peter Løvendahl from the Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics at Aarhus University, Jan Lassen from Viking Genetics and Henrik Bjørn Nielsen from the Technical University of Denmark have also recently received the Innovation Fund Denmark’s Grand Solutions Prize for their work in the breeding of climate-friendly cows. The group will now build on this research, which will be utilised to perform the genomic selection of embryos for the production of calves within the EliteOva project.
Another key contributor to the project is IVF Bioscience’s Scientific Advisor, Dr Lotte Stroebech. Dr Stroebech will contribute her extensive knowledge of IVP, with all embryos in the project being produced in her laboratory at Copenhagen University. The OPU and transfer procedures will be conducted Trans Embryo Genetics. Dr. Hanna Grothmann from the SME Masterrind, Germany will contribute with data regarding the health of calves resulting from the use of the IVF Bioscience media portfolio, while Prof. Charles Long, Melchior Bioscience, Texas, US, and Prof. Marc-André Sirard, Université Laval, Quebec, Canada, will investigate the normality of the epigenetic profiles of the embryos and calves conceived in the project.
With so much scope for beneficial outcomes, this project is sure to have a positive impact on Denmark’s livestock industry; with healthier cattle, lower methane emissions, and more effective milk production all contributing to a model that should find success both in Denmark and beyond.