Award for cow IVF research

By Country News

A scientist looking for the best way to collect eggs from juvenile cows has been announced as a recipient of a Science and Innovation Award for Young People in Agriculture.

Bethany Finger, who was the recipient of the Dairy Australia award, is exploring how farmers can use eggs from juvenile cows in IVF and maximise the offspring from an individual over her lifetime.

Reproductive technologies are commonly used in cattle, with 600000 embryos a year produced via in vitro fertilisation globally.

But currently, in vitro embryo production uses eggs from sexually mature cows, meaning a long lead time.

However, it is possible to collect eggs from juvenile cows from as young as three months of age, according to the University of Melbourne reproductive biology technical officer, in a process known as JIVET (juvenile in vitro embryo production and transfer).

‘‘We know biologically that all females are born with all their eggs for their life,’’ Ms Finger said.

‘‘So we know it’s theoretically possible and we can do it at the moment — getting these JIVET embryos — but it’s just at a much lower rate than we’d see in an adult.

‘‘We’re hoping to adjust the normal IVF protocol and simulation to suit a juvenile cow and hopefully improve the rates.’’

If successful, producing embryos from juvenile cows could reduce the generation time by more than half, resulting in double to triple the speed of genetic gain with great advantages for industry.

Ms Finger grew up on an orchard with sheep and cattle but never planned to go into agriculture.

She studied biology and genetics at the University of Melbourne, which led her into the embryology world and then back to cows.

‘‘I sort of ended up back where I came from.’’

Ms Finger said she liked that her research had a direct application.

‘‘If it works it will work really quickly and well,’’ she said.

‘‘So I am really excited to develop the protocol that will be commercially viable and benefit people.’’

Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said award winners would receive grants of up to $22000 to further develop their ideas and boost Australia’s agriculture sector.

‘‘These innovators are the ones who’ll keep Australian agriculture at the cutting edge,’’ he said.