Sexed Semen and Artificial Insemination

Four new foals are leading the field in the race to develop insemination techniques that could forever change the face of the multibillion-dollar international horse-breeding industry.

XY Inc., a Colorado biotech company, has announced the birth of the world's first foals to be born from mares impregnated via artificial insemination combined with low-dose sexed semen.

“To achieve pregnany in horses using artificial insemination and low-dose sexed semen is a major breakthrough in the highly complex process of horse breeding,” said Dr. Mervyn Jacobson, chief executive officer of XY. “The fact no surgical intervention was required makes these births even more important.”

XY expects in the coming years to commercialize the technique that combines AI with low-dose sexed semen, Jacobson added.

Currently, in thehorses the sucess of artificial insemination with sexed semen lags far behind the success already achieved in cattle because of the horse's complex reproductive biology and the incredibly high number of sperm—typically 500 million—needed to impregnate a mare.

The four foals, born between July 15 and August 8, were conceived using sperm dosages of just 25 million sperm, that is, five percent of the dosage regarded until now as necessary for AI impregnation of horses.

The first two foals, both fillies were born July 15 within an hour of one another. The third foal, a male, was born on August 1. The fourth, a purebred Arabian colt, was born August 8.

XY researchers have made rapid progress since 1998 when they successfully combined surgical techniques and sexed semen to produce “Call Me Madam,” the first horse in the world to have her sex selected prior to conception.

“Our research breakthrough last year indicated equine sperm can survive the semen-sorting procedure,” Jacobson explained. “However,” he added, “complicated surgical techniques simply are not acceptable to horse breeders. First and foremost, breeders want a reliable AI method that produces live foals. Giving breeders the additional possibility of selecting the sex of the foal is a dream come true for them.”

While the historic 1999 births of the four foals signal low-dose sexed sperm and AI can work in horses, three other “firsts” also were achieved: the first filly and the first colt to have their sex predetermined using AI combined with sexed semen, and the first purebred, an Arabian, to be conceived using the technique.

AI using low-dose sorted sperm has the potential to develop a new lucrative multimillion-dollar enterprise for the horse industry. In 1994 alone, U.S. horse breeders reported $548 million in stud fees. That same year, breeders reported receiving more than $3 billion in proceeds from horse sales.

Applications of AI using advanced sperm sorting could be in excess of $300 million a year for the U.S. horse industry alone, said Jacobson. The market outside the U.S. could more than double these projections, he added.

XY, which holds exclusive global rights to the license for sperm sorting by flow cytometry in all non-human mammals, was formed as a joint venture of the Colorado State University Research Foundation and Cytomation Inc., of Fort Collins, Colorado.

Founded in May 1996, XY's original mission was to provide semen-sexing services to the U.S. cattle industry. With the appointment of Jacobson in January 1997, XY's mission expanded also to include horses, pigs, and endangered species, specifically, and all non-human mammals, potentially.

The breakthrough science of AI combined with low-dose sexed semen and its application to horses was developed by XY scientists in conjunction with three other respected research teams at Colorado State University, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Cytomation.

Colorado State researchers discovered how to make female animals pregnant with unusually low doses of sperm. USDA researchers developed and patented the technology that allows sperm to be sorted by flow cytometry. Cytomation built the computerized device—MoFlo—to speed the sorting process. XY scientists perform sperm sorting that allows XY to dictate the sex of horses, cows, and other animals before AI occurs.

“The births of these lovely foals is justification to go forward with additional development work to bring to market these sex-selection breeding techniques for horses,” Jacobson noted.

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.

Stay on top of the most recent Horse Health news with FREE weekly newsletters from Learn More

Free Newsletters

Sign up for the latest in:

From our partners