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Test tube foals

Report by Mark Andrews. Published online 27.12.15

Two test tube foals have been born as the result of a 3-year collaboration between researchers at the University of Liverpool, the University of Surrey and Twemlows Stud Farm. The aim of the project was to develop advanced breeding techniques not currently available in the United Kingdom.

Two different advanced breeding techniques were used: oocyte transfer and intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI).

The first foal, born in June 2015 and named Twemlows Simba, was conceived by oocyte transfer. An oocyte (egg) taken from a donor mare, was transferred to the oviduct (fallopian tube) of a surrogate mare. She was then inseminated with semen from the chosen stallion. Fertilization occurred (in the recipient mare) who then carried the foal to term.

The second foal, named Twemlows Little ICSI, after the technique (intracytoplasmic sperm injection) used for its conception, was born in October 2015.

In this case, the foal was produced from an oocyte taken from a dead mare. It was fertilized in the laboratory using the ICSI technique – injecting the oocyte with a single sperm cell. The fertilized egg was then maintained in specialized incubator until the 9th day, at which stage it was transferred to the uterus of the recipient mare.

This technique has potential value in rare and endangered breeds – allowing more offspring to be produced from individual mares, and from stallions producing only low numbers of sperm. It could be used, along with cryopreservation of embryos, to produce a bank of reserve embryos for breeds under threat of extinction.

Niamh Lewis, a veterinarian researcher at the University of Liverpool, who managed the project said: “These are complex methods which are currently offered by only a very few centres worldwide. The ability to perform these techniques reliably offers new hope to help overcome various fertility issues in stallions and also provides opportunities to create offspring from valuable mares who have died unexpectedly or cannot conceive in their own right.”

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