20 November 1998


IT doesnt matter if a cow is just two months old or dead – if she has genetic merit she can still be used for reproduction.

That is the philosophy at the Laboratory of Reproductive Technologies at Porcellasco, near Cremona in northern Italy.

In the first seven months of this year over 5200 eggs were collected from 550 dams, with just over 1400 embryos successfully produced and transferred to new recipients.

Since 1991 the lab has produced over 50,000 embryos by in-vitro fertilisation, to become one of the leading laboratories in the world.

"Mostly we are producing embryos for commercial farmers, though some are kept for our own research and development," says the centres Cesare Galli.

The ovum pick-up technique is a two man affair – one to manipulate the ovaries through the anal wall and to hold the probe scanner, the other to operate the syringe.

"We can use these methods on animals over six months old, though younger heifers require surgery," says Dr Galli. "We do not use superovulation, however, as we find this only increases size of the follicle, not numbers."

Recovered eggs are kept warm for a day to mature and then fertilised. Anything between 20% and 40% develop into viable embryos, which may be sexed and frozen, or transferred fresh at eight days old.

The service is not cheap, however, costing up to 350,000 lira (£130) for a sexed, frozen embryo.

But the advantage is that the technique can be used to greatly speed up the selection process. Its not unusual to see calves at the Porcellasco centre whose genetic mothers are still only 11 months old.

Also, if a good cow dies, it is still possible to recover her eggs from the abattoir. &#42

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