The incompletely fulfilled promise of embryo transfer in cattle—why aren’t pregnancy rates greater and what can we do about it?

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Published on: February 18, 2021

Peter J Hansen

Department of Animal Sciences, D.H. Barron Reproductive and Perinatal Biology Research Program, and Genetics Institute, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL

Journal of Animal Science, Volume 98, Issue 11, November 2020, skaa288


Typically, bovine embryos are transferred into recipient females about day 7 after estrus or anticipated ovulation, when the embryo has reached the blastocyst stage of development. All the biological and technical causes for failure of a female to produce a blastocyst 7 d after natural or artificial insemination (AI) are avoided when a blastocyst-stage embryo is transferred into the female. It is reasonable to expect, therefore, that pregnancy success would be higher for embryo transfer (ET) recipients than for inseminated females. This expectation is not usually met unless the recipient is exposed to heat stress or is classified as a repeat-breeder female. Rather, pregnancy success is generally similar for ET and AI. The implication is that either one or more of the technical aspects of ET have not yet been optimized or that underlying female fertility that causes an embryo to die before day 7 also causes it to die later in pregnancy. Improvements in pregnancy success after ET will depend upon making a better embryo, improving uterine receptivity, and forging new tools for production and transfer of embryos. Key to accelerating progress in improving pregnancy rates will be the identification of phenotypes or phenomes that allow the prediction of embryo competence for survival and maternal capacity to support embryonic development.

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