Sexed semen is heading for the pig industry, thanks to a new semen sorting technology developed in Wales.

Ovasort, a Welsh start-up company has signed an exclusive global licensing deal with Dansk Svineproduktion (Danish Bacon) to provide new semen sexing technology.

The company, based at Cardiff Medicenter and dedicated to the identification of new proteins, is using technology originally developed at Bristol Vet School for a major research and development programme.

This aims to exploit specific protein molecules to develop the world’s first low cost, high volume sperm separation process for all classes of livestock.

The work is being directed by Ian Brewis, the company’s chief scientific officer, who is a lecturer at Cardiff University and an expert in sperm cell surfaces.

The patented cell separation technology his team is applying exploits the ability of particular protein molecules to bind together X-chromosome bearing, female producing sperm cells, leaving unbound Y-chromosome bearing male producing cells free to be filtered from a semen sample.

The bound female cells can then be separated, so the technique can provide populations of male rich and female rich cells for artificial insemination.

This, the researchers claim, could dramatically improve the commercial efficiency of supplying breeding gilts to the pig industry. It would also result in fewer male piglets being born, so reducing the need for castration.

Bob Wallis, the Welsh Assembly’s bioscience sector manager claimed it was no surprise the company had attracted a collaborator such as Dansk Svineproduktion.

Ian Cumming, Ovasort’s chief executive officer, admits that while the technique is proven it is still at a relatively early stage of development.

“The advances made in the fields of genomics and proteomics, along with the development of ever-more sensitive instrumentation, means we can address the problem of semen sexing in a way that was impossible even two years ago,” said Dr Cumming.

“Levels of protein detection are now a million times more sensitive, which means the Ovasort technology could deliver a product that dairy and beef farmers could afford. The company will shortly be seeking a partner in the cattle sector.