Researchers Produce First European Foals from Frozen Embryos

The team hopes to make this process more accessible to breeders in the future.

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Freezing and thawing equine embryos is no easy task, compared to other species. But French researchers have successfully produced the first four foals in Europe from frozen embryos. Their long-term goals are twofold: to make the process more accessible to the common breeder and to protect endangered equine species.

“American universities have already done it (births from frozen equine embryos), but this is a first for Europe,” said Florence Guignot, PhD, of the French National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA), during a presentation at the 2015 French Equine Research Day, held March 12 in Paris. “We want to take the mystery out of it and make it a practical and realistic option for breeders and conservation groups alike.”

As such, Guignot and her colleagues set out to validate their cryopreservation technique following biopsy and blastocelic fluid aspiration (to improve survival of the freezing process in equines) in a field—not laboratory—setting. The team biopsied (to test for gender, three coat color markers, two genetic disease markers, and 14 bloodline markers) and vitrified seven thawed, intact Welsh pony embryos at the INRA Val de Loire center at Nouzilly. They then transferred them to recipient saddle horse mares at the Haras du Pin national stud in Normandy.

Two other embryos had lost their embryonic capsules (which surround and protect the embryo like an eggshell) following the thawing process, Guignot said. The team transferred these “capsule-free” embryos anyway, but they did not result in pregnancy at 14 days

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Passionate about horses and science from the time she was riding her first Shetland Pony in Texas, Christa Lesté-Lasserre writes about scientific research that contributes to a better understanding of all equids. After undergrad studies in science, journalism, and literature, she received a master’s degree in creative writing. Now based in France, she aims to present the most fascinating aspect of equine science: the story it creates. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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