The EmbryoGENE Network will address current issues concerning embryo development in important livestock species, mainly cattle and swine. This concerted, pan-Canadian effort, supported by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), is devoted to understanding the genome and epigenome of the competent embryos of cattle and swine and to determine how 1) Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ART) and 2) maternal nutrition and the embryonic environment, influence embryo development and, as a consequence, the future health of offspring derived from such embryos.
The EmbryoGENE Network will develop new and powerful tools for genome and epigenome analysis that would not otherwise be available to scientists in Canada. Development of efficient state-of-the-art transcriptomics and epigenomics platforms, and subsequent studies on the impact of ART and maternal metabolic state on oocyte/embryonic quality in both cattle and swine, would not be possible without the participation of all EmbryoGENE members. The success of a network of EmbryoGENE’s scale relies greatly on efficient communications, for expertise and data sharing, between members from Universities, industries, and government agencies.
Considering the economic impact of Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ART) in animal agriculture, EmbryoGENE will address major concerns about the application of ARTs to food-animal production. The data generated by the EmbryoGENE Network will serve the public by providing them with information on the health of animals in our farms. The EmbryoGENE Network will also provide the regulatory agencies with new data to inform their decision making processes.
Benefits to Canada
The EmbryoGENE Network has the potential to benefit Canada in a myriad of ways. First of all, current policies and regulations in Canada are very restrictive in regards to genetically-modified animals. This is due, in part, to the lack of knowledge on the consequences of the effect of manipulations on the genome of an embryo. The regulatory agencies recognize that baseline data, such as will be generated by EmbryoGENE, is needed on the genetics, physiology, and overall health of cloned embryos. Not only will the solid scientific data generated by EmbryoGENE be a valuable addition to the scientific literature, it will also serve policy makers as they address important regulatory questions. The regulatory agencies are also aware that the neutral position of academic research is important for an objective assessment of these sensitive issues. Further, by informing policy makers on important issues, the universities involved are fulfilling their direct role of serving society.
The EmbryoGENE Network has the potential to benefit the agricultural sector in Canada. Today many ART techniques are routinely utilized in livestock, being well-established and profitable practices in the beef, dairy, and swine industries. Similar to cryopreservation of semen and artificial insemination (AI), embryo freezing and transfer has allowed for global commercialization of animals with desirable genetic qualities. Embryo transfer is very advantageous because 1) it results in a more rapid genetic herd improvement compared with AI alone, 2) it reduces the livestock import and export costs, and 3) it reduces the risk of infectious disease transmission. However, embryonic mortality and malformations associated with embryo transfer still constitute an important and increasing economic loss to the Canadian agricultural industry. EmbryoGENE will investigate how to mitigate the difficulties with embryo transfer in livestock species important to the Canadian agriculture sector.
Additionally, feed represents a primary expense to producers in the livestock production industry, with optimal nutrient utilization being a key factor in the production of high-quality foods for consumption by Canadians and export to growing foreign markets. Pre-programming of embryonic development due to maternal nutrition or metabolic state impacts post-natal development and has important implications for production efficiency. The importance of maternal nutrition becomes quite striking when one considers that this is believed to be the major cause of variability in growth potential and health status among individual animals. This in turn leads to increased food costs, greater nutrient loss into manure and increased management expenses due to the variable performance of animals from the resulting heterogenous population. Therefore, a better understanding of the relationship between nutrition, embryo quality, and epigenetics will allow for management of these factors and more efficient production in animal agriculture.
The EmbryoGENE Network has the potential to benefit Canadian society by supporting federal objectives of transparency and openness in regards to regulatory processes. The federal agencies are committed to this goal, which can help assure the public that safety comes first in the regulation of products of agricultural biotechnology. The Network will answer some concerns of the Canadian public regarding the use of ART in agriculture, especially in aiding the regulatory agencies in assessing whether the animals produced by ART (especially cloning and transgenesis) or their offspring are safe to enter the food chain.
Other benefits to Canada include the training of more than 30 highly qualified personnel, possible application of results to human health, and overall support for the Canadian animal industry by increasing its capacity and global competitiveness.©2015 EmbryoGENE. All Rights Reserved.