Jennifer Nagashima and Nucharin Songasen with IVF puppies - Photo by Jeffrey Macmillan

When seven puppies born at Cornell enjoyed their first romp on a grassy lawn, the cute pups were accompanied by more than the usual oohs and aahs. The first litter ever produced by in vitro fertilization, these test-tube puppies made headlines around the world in 2015. 

New Era for Canine Conservation

January 4, 2016

Jennifer Nagashima and Nucharin Songasen with IVF puppies - Photo by Jeffrey Macmillan

When seven puppies born at Cornell enjoyed their first romp on a grassy lawn, the cute pups were accompanied by more than the usual oohs and aahs. The first litter ever produced by in vitro fertilization, these test-tube puppies made headlines around the world in 2015.

Jennifer Nagashima and Nucharin Songasen with IVF puppies - Photo by Jeffrey MacmillanJennifer Nagashima and Nucharin Songsasen with IVF puppies - All photos: Jeffrey Macmillan

IVF in dogs is tricky business. For decades, researchers have been trying to produce litters using IVF, a process that routinely works for human reproduction. This breakthrough heralds a new era for conserving endangered canid species. The potential to store semen and eggs holds great promise for increasing the genetic diversity of wild canines, including several threatened species of wolves and foxes.

It’s also good news for domestic pets. Researchers may one day be able to remove genetic diseases and traits in an embryo, eliminating heritable diseases in popular dog breeds, such as lymphoma in golden retrievers.

“With a combination of gene editing techniques and IVF, we can potentially prevent genetic disease before it starts,” said wildlife biologist Alex Travis, the Atkinson Center’s faculty director of environment. The advance also offers a powerful tool for understanding the genetic basis of diseases in canids and humans, Travis said. Dogs share more than 350 heritable disorders and traits with humans, almost twice the number of any other species.

IVF Puppies

Graduate student Jennifer Nagashima perfected the new technique, working with Travis and researchers at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal, Virginia. Nagashima was the first graduate of a joint training program supported by the Atkinson Center and SCBI. Her hard work—combined with Travis’s knowledge of sperm physiology and egg biology expertise from the Smithsonian’s Nucharin Songsasen—helped these historic dogs have their day.

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