The world’s very first puppies conceived using IVF–the same methods that lead to the births of tens of thousands of human babies each year–have been born. And they are adorable!
The team at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine said that the idea is to be able to create lab animals for medical tests, along with the ability to preserve endangered species.
In-vitro fertilization (IVF) has been used on humans, of course. The first human test-tube baby, Louise Brown, was born in 1978. Since that year, scientists have united sperm and egg in dishes and implanted them into women to give life to millions of children, NBC News reported.
But IVF has also been used to breed monkeys, cattle and even cats. However, dogs have never been on the list.
It has taken a long time (decades) to get to this point. Why?
“Dog reproduction is very, very different from that of other mammals,” an associate professor of reproductive biology who helped with the work, Alexander Travis said.
Their reproductive cycle is a bit different than other mammals. For instance, they only go into heat (produce eggs) twice a year. “When they ovulate an egg, it gets released at a very immature stage compared to other species,” Travis said.
“So for example in human or mouse, when the egg is ovulated, it’s pretty much ready to be fertilized. In the dog, it has to mature in the oviduct or Fallopian tube for several days.”
And their eggs are dark and difficult to see.
The Cornell research team reported in the Public Library of Science journal PLOS ONE that they came up with a way to make it work using a bath. It includes chemical magnesium and finding the correct stage of egg cell. That bath resulted in seven puppies!
Travis explains that the method the team discovered can aid in breeding endangered species. “There’s currently five species of dog that are threatened with extinction,” he said. Those species include dogs like the Ethiopian wolf and the African painted dog.
“So by doing this now in a domestic dog, what we’re doing is creating a platform or starting place to now expand this technique to be used for all these other species of dog. It may not turn out to be exactly the same, but it gives us a really good starting point,” Travis said to NBC News.
Researchers claimed they could use their new method to correct genetic diseases in several dog breeds as well. “In-vitro fertilization itself can’t help prevent disease but what it does is it gives us a way to generate embryos and then we can use new technologies–gene editing technologies–to hopefully go in and fix certain genes that cause those diseases,” Travis said.
He used Dalmations as an example. “Dalmations are known for getting urinary stones; golden retrievers are susceptible to different types of cancer. Collies get certain eye defects.”
He added that there “are many, many diseases–over 350 diseases–that dogs have that are genetic in origin that are shared with people.”
So what comes next for these puppies? Travis has the answer: “a lot of house training.”