"Six freshly collected egg cells have been fertilized with previously acquired sperm thawed specifically for this purpose. This has already been a tremendous success, but even more important is the fact that one embryo is still developing and is now in the early blastocyst stage" - said Prof. Anna Duszewska, who leads the research team at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, WULS-SGGW. The team members are Dr. Paweł Gręda and Magdalena Baraniewicz.
One of the elements of this program is the creation of a professional bank of bison genes, including tissues, reproductive cells and, above all, embryos - said Prof. Wanda Olech-Piasecka, Dean of the Faculty of Animal Science of Warsaw University of Life Sciences and President of the European Bison Friends Society. "This will give us a unique on a global scale security for a species whose future is still uncertain. We are afraid primarily of infectious diseases that appear in different parts of Europe and may destroy our plans to move live bison. In this situation, only the embryos will allow to refresh blood in bison herds" - explained the professor, who is the scientific coordinator of the project.
Prof. Olech-Piasecka emphasised that preserving DNA is of paramount importance due to the very low genetic variability of the bison living in the world today. "They all derive from a small number of founders, our lowland bison are actually just seven genotypes, and quite similar ones at that. Thanks to the acquisition of reproductive cells from animals that, for example due to illness, would not be able to reproduce in the future, we prevent the genetic pool depletion" - she added.
Building the gene bank is one of the goals of the comprehensive bison protection project launched by the State Forests on March 1. Its other elements include ongoing care and monitoring of the health of the existing population, the creation of new bison herds in Poland and the spread of these animals in the world. The four-year project is worth over PLN 40 million and is fully financed by the State Forests, from the forest fund.
"In the world, the method of in vitro breeding of the embryo has been successfully used in many species of mammals. Now if has been successfully used in bison, a species that is special to us, because it was saved from extinction in Poland and restored to nature" - director of the Mammal Research Institute of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Białowieża, Prof. Rafał Kowalczyk said in an interview with PAP. He commented that it was an interesting experiment that enriched the knowledge about the bison.
The professor also pointed out that in vitro was still an expensive method. Therefore, if the need arises to breed a particular bison pair, the traditional method of extracting the semen from a particular male and the insemination of a particular female is still preferred.
He added that bison have no reproductive problems in closed or free breeding. "The wild populations are growing and reproduce well. All bison that live in the world are descendants of just a few individuals - and that means low genetic variation. However, calves do not develop anomalies that often occur when breeding genetically closely related animals" - noted Prof. Kowalczyk.
According to the head of the Mammal Research Institute PAS, creating new populations, moving away from farming methods and reducing dependence on humans is crucial for the protection of bison in Poland. (PAP)
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