First there was artificial insemination. Then came embryo transfer. Now, the successful storage of frozen equine embryos is the next challenge being tackled by researchers.
The ability to store a horse embryo may be of interest to horse owners wishing to preserve the genetics of a valuable animal for future use. It could also be a solution for endangered species.
University of Guelph researcher Tracey Chenier and her colleagues, who are working with the assistance of internationally renowned cryobiologist Dr Stanley Leibo, are looking for effective ways to freeze embryos which could lead to worldwide commercial viability of embryo transfer in the horse.
Currently, almost all embryo transfers are a costly process involving fresh transfer on the same day. “The ability to freeze and store horse embryos not only would allow for a more convenient transfer time, but would also prove more cost effective,” Chenier said.
The challenge which is unique to horse embryos, is the formation of a glycoprotein-based capsule (which forms about seven days after ovulation) which surrounds the embryo and prevents the freezing chemical from entering the tissue.
“We have confirmed that with 9 – 11 day old embryos, very little cryoprotectant can enter into the embryo and very little water can make it out. Water forms ice crystals when you freeze it and this can cause damage to the embryo,” Chenier said.
Chenier and Leibo will be collecting 40 more embryos to continue working on solving this dilemma.