UC Davis News
November 14, 2007
The first ever early-stage cheetah embryos developed using in vitro fertilization were recently produced and frozen at the Cheetah Conservation Fund International Research and Education Centre in Namibia, with the help of scientists from the Smithsonian Institution and UC Davis' School of Veterinary Medicine.
The research team is working to develop a better understanding of cheetah reproductive longevity so that cheetahs in captivity can be bred to bolster threatened numbers of the animals in the wild and improve their gene pool.
"The successful production of these embryos through in vitro fertilization is a landmark achievement in the effort to preserve the world's wild cheetahs," said Autumn Davidson, a UC Davis veterinarian based at the William R. Pritchard Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital. "This development is an important step toward successfully breeding cheetahs on reserves and releasing their offspring into the wild."
She noted that investigation of cheetah embryo transplantation is the next step in this important project. Assisted reproductive technologies, such as in vitro fertilization and embryo transplantation, coupled with cheetah conservation in the wild, will help to promote the survival of the species.
In vitro fertilization is the process of combining the egg and sperm in a laboratory dish, then incubating the resulting embryo under carefully controlled conditions.
The technique is relatively routine in many species, including humans. However, use of this method of assisted reproduction has proven challenging in the cheetah and other carnivores. Researchers have found that cheetahs have very specific requirements for temperature, carbon dioxide levels and laboratory growth mediums in order to successfully produce embryos using in vitro fertilization.
In both 2006 and 2007, Davidson and UC Davis ultrasonographer Tomás Baker transported their ultrasound and endoscope equipment to the cheetah center outside Otjiwarongo, Namibia, in southwest Africa.
During each three-week visit, Davidson and Baker conducted exams of the reserve's female cheetahs, looking both at the quality of the animals' eggs and the ultrasonographic status of their reproductive tracts.
The Cheetah Conservation Fund International Research and Education Centre is the world's largest cheetah reserve. It is dedicated to ensuring the long-term survival of the cheetah, whose future is threatened by a remarkably small gene pool that makes the species vulnerable to being eradicated by disease or other environmental threats.
* Autumn Davidson, William R. Pritchard Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, (530) 752-1393, firstname.lastname@example.org
* Tomás Baker, Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, (530) 752-8078, email@example.com
* Pat Bailey, UC Davis News Service, (530) 752-9843, firstname.lastname@example.org