Looking at the genetic makeup of cattle to determine their value is nothing new. An examination of a small sample of hair or blood can reveal if a calf has any genetic diseases that will lower the market price.
Now, a team of clinicians and diagnosticians and genetic researchers at Iowa State University's College of Veterinary Medicine are looking to test those calves earlier — before they are born — even before the dam is pregnant. Jim West and Paul Plummer are researching a method to determine if a bovine is genetically sound when it is still an embryo prior to being implanted in its dam.
This process, if successful, would allow producers to select which embryos are valuable before spending the time, effort and expense of producing a calf only to find out that it has genetic defects that render it of little value. Until now, the problem has been biopsy samples of embryos are so small, only a few cells, that it was impossible to accurately read the genetic information.
"There were limitations to the process," explains West, director of Food Supply Veterinary Medicine. "You can't take very many cells when you do the biopsy. You have to leave enough cells to get a pregnancy."
New technology may allow the scientists to get accurate genetic information from samples as small as two to three cells and still keep the embryo viable, even if it is frozen for long-term storage.
"Our research is looking at the ability to biopsy the embryo, freeze it and then do a variety of tests on the sample after only seven days from when it was conceived," says West.
Click here for more.