Animal Reproduction Research at Lyons Farm

Reproduction ImageReproduction research in UCD is focused on investigating solutions to reproductive problems in cattle.  The ultimate objective of the research is to develop approaches and/or technologies to improve the fertility of dairy cows but with implications for the treatment of infertility in other species, particularly humans. The research aims to generate new knowledge in an area that is of strategic importance to the Irish Economy and to commercialise diagnostic and therapeutic products to improve reproductive efficiency.

The Problem of Infertility

Infertility is a serious problem with common aspects in several species. For example, only about 25% of humans, 35% of dairy cows and 35% of mares produce live offspring after each insemination, natural or artificial. In cattle, infertility has a major detrimental effect on the efficiency and economics of food production. In humans, assisted reproductive technologies have been developed but the success rates are disappointingly low with a live birth rate per cycle of less than 25% and with the confounding problem of multiple births. Furthermore, these technologies are invasive, expensive and often traumatic.

Solving the Problem

Low fertility is caused by a range of different conditions including poor expression and detection of heat, mistiming of insemination, poor egg and embryo quality, and an inadequate uterine environment preventing the establishment of pregnancy.

UCD is focused on investigating specific aspects of female infertility primarily concentrating on events in the days immediately before and after fertilization. The overall objective is to identify molecules (e.g. genes, proteins and metabolites) in ovarian follicles, oocytes, embryos and the cervix and uterus that are responsible for, or are markers of, infertility. This is achieved by using established large animal models of fertility/infertility, in vitro cell culture techniques and the latest technological advances in the biosciences to study the structure and function of complex molecules. In cooperation with our industrial partners, the knowledge generated will provide opportunities to develop new diagnostics and therapeutics to improve reproductive efficiency in cattle.

These studies are directed at solving infertility problems in cattle but the results will also form the basis for new applications for assisted human reproduction.

Current Projects

Current research projects include:

  • GplusE: A European-wide project to assess the impacts of genomic selection and different management systems on dairy cow production. The aim of the project is to understand the interactions between animal breeding and management that will deliver the best improvements in animal productivity, efficiency, animal health, welfare and fertility in an environmentally sustainable way.
  • ENRICH: The early diagnosis of postpartum uterine disease for the enhancement of reproduction and improved cow health. 
  • The development of early non-invasive and reliable molecular biomarkers of pregnancy in cattle.
  • Reducing embryo mortality through improved understanding of embryo maternal communication.

Recent Findings