Reproduction Symposium

Veterinarians were offered a unique experience at the Bluegrass Equine Reproduction Symposium. This meeting was for practitioners who wanted to learn more about state-of-the-art technology and practices in equine reproduction, and offered not only lectures, but hands-on labs with leading experts in reproductive ultrasound and semen evaluation. Held Oct. 25-28, 2000, in Lexington, Ky., the conference was hosted by Hagyard-Davidson-McGee Associates (HDM) and featured 21 experts in theriogenology (reproduction).

A series of 120-minute wet labs gave practitioners practical experience with reproductive diagnostics and pathology that they might not have had a chance to master in their everyday practice. Diagnostic ultrasound examination of soft tissue is considered an invaluable skill for veterinarians today, and the reproductive system was highlighted in these educational sessions. Experts showed their colleagues new ways to examine internal structures with ultrasound. Individuals practiced using ultrasound for fetal sexing, as well as for diagnosis of conditions other than pregnancy.

Dickson Varner, DVM, Dipl. ACT, of Texas A&M University, was one of the instructors in the ultrasound and endoscopic examination of the stallion. "I believe that symposium was a very enlightening program for all participants," he said. "The list of topics focused on that which has immediate impact on the practicing veterinarian.

"The discipline of equine reproduction has made significant strides in recent years with regard to both diagnostic and therapeutic techniques, and the breadth of advanced reproductive technologies is continually expanding. I expect that many of these new technologies will be considered 'standard operating procedures' within the next few years," he added.

Meanwhile, in an upstairs laboratory at HDM, veterinarians honed their skills with the help of three experts by examining uterine biopsies under microscopes. The object of the exercise was to assist participants in pinpointing abnormalities.

The final days of the symposium were devoted to sessions on practical reproductive concepts. The sessions focused on the stallion, the non-pregnant mare, and the pregnant mare. Topics ranged from nutrition for the breeding animal to the effects of hormones, and from diagnostic work-ups to post-partum complications. A room of exhibits from pharmaceutical companies and reproductive equipment supply companies awaited attendees as they took breaks during the lecture schedule.

The Mary Passenger Lecture

The eighth annual Mary Passenger Memorial Lecture on Equine Medicine and Surgery was given Oct. 26 by Jonathan Hill, BVSc, PhD, Dipl. ACT, MACVSc, Assistant Professor of Theriogenology at Cornell University. In his presentation, Hill discussed the purposes of cloning, problems with the applications of animal cloning, and the future application of cloning in veterinary science. The Department of Veterinary Science in the University of Kentucky's College of Agriculture joined with HDM in sponsoring the lecture.

In his paper "Cloning--here to stay, or just another passing fad?" Hill wrote, "Currently, the primary application of cloning lies not in the ability to create thousands of identical individuals, but in improving the efficiency of transgenic animal production." (Transgenic animals have chromosomes into which one or more genes derived from a different species have been incorporated.) He continued, "The major application of transgenic animals is for production of vital, expensive human pharmaceuticals (e.g. blood clotting factors, human albumin), or to grow organs with altered immunological identification, making them suitable transplants for humans."

He stressed that there is much more research to be done because offspring derived from cloning have an increased chance of being genetically abnormal.

"There are many obstacles in the path of successfully cloning horses using somatic cell DNA from the donor incorporated into a recipient egg," explained Atwood C. Asbury, DVM. Asbury is a retired practitioner and former dean of the veterinary school at the University of Florida, whose practice and academic career were devoted to equine reproduction. He was also a featured speaker at the symposium on infectious diseases and infertility.

"The establishment of an embryo is an infrequent even," Asbury added. "Many eggs are needed to give a reasonable chance of ending up with one pregnancy. Multiple harvests of eggs from mares are difficult, and will be a limiting factor. Also, pregnancy failure rates are high due to problems, including poor development."

"Visions of reproducing identical performance in clones of super-athletic horses are probably unrealistic because these characteristics are influenced by many non-genetic causes," Asbury explained. "And, there is inheritance of a specific type of DNA (mitochondrial) from the recipient egg, which may affect energy production in the clone."

In essence, our dreams of creating a carbon copy of our wonder horse might be unreachable.

About the Author

Stephanie L. Church, Editor-in-Chief

Stephanie L. Church, Editor-in-Chief, received a B.A. in Journalism and Equestrian Studies from Averett College in Danville, Virginia. A Pony Club and 4-H graduate, her background is in eventing, and she is schooling her recently retired Thoroughbred racehorse, Happy, toward a career in that discipline. She also enjoys traveling, photography, cycling, and cooking in her free time.

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