Developing a fertility test | Researchers have identified fertility protein, now seek to give producers a tool to apply that knowledge
University of Saskatchewan re-searchers are closing in on a test that would make it easier to gauge bull fertility.
Mary Buhr, dean and professor at the university’s agriculture college, has been working on sperm and fertility issues for several years, researching how to better preserve sperm for artificial insemination.
That work has evolved into a project with a U of S team headed by Murray Pettit, which has identified a protein that they believe is a potential marker of fertility.
Using that information, the team is trying to develop a test allowing beef and dairy producers to select bulls not just on their growth characteristics but on their ability to get cows pregnant.
“We have the pregnancy test for women, right? We just sort of pee on a stick and you can tell whether or not you’re pregnant,” said Buhr.
“Wouldn’t it be nice if when we’re doing the breeding soundness exam for bulls, if we could just get a sample … and if we could just run it through a quick stick test the same way?”
The research project is one of six at the university to share $555,000 in funding from the Canadian Foundation for Innovation.
The researchers’ first task is to find the protein, which Buhler said is tricky because “it comes in a number of different shapes.”
She likened it to a large family.
“Yeah I’ve got eight kids in the family … but I want to know exactly which kid it is that’s the one that broke the window,” she said.
The research funding will buy equipment and help the team reveal the culprit. Then they can develop the test, which Buhr estimated is three to five years away from commercialization.
“There’s a number of different approaches that we’re going to be looking at,” she said.
“It would be wonderful if we could get to a pregnancy stick test, but I think that’s a few years further down the line than what we’re going to be doing right away.”
She said the test would be a significant financial advantage for producers because it would help them make more efficient use of their open cows and breeding bulls.
“That’s where the real benefit would come to the beef industry, because you would be able to know for sure that a new young bull is fertile,” she said.
“Right now, the breeding soundness exam simply says, ‘yes, he has sperm, and yes, they’re swimming,’ “ said Buhr.
“It does not tell you whether or not they’re capable of doing the job.”
Buhr said the project could be expanded if the team is successful. They’ve looked at applying the research to pigs, but that work re-mains at a much earlier stage.
“Obviously, if we get it nailed down in cattle, we’ll be looking at other species as well,” she said.