The first-ever litter of puppies conceived through in vitro fertilization was born recently, unlocking a reproductive secret in domestic dogs that has helped researchers solve a decades-old canine biology puzzle.
The findings, published online (Dec. 9) in the journal PLOS ONE, outline the eggs-ceptional process that produced seven healthy puppies — five with two beagle parents and two with a cocker spaniel father and a beagle mother — born by scheduled caesarian section to a host female dog.
In vitro (“outside the body”) fertilization, also known as IVF, combines the egg and sperm in an artificial environment, creating an embryo that is then implanted in a host that carries it to full term.
The in-vitro fertilisation success paves the way for conserving endangered breeds and could help in the fight against human and animal diseases.
Lead researcher Dr Alex Travis, from Cornell’s college of veterinary medicine, said: “We have seven normal happy healthy puppies.”
He added: “Since the mid-1970s, people have been trying to do this in a dog and have been unsuccessful.
“Now we can use this technique to conserve the genetics of endangered species.”
The researchers say IVF is a powerful tool to help endangered species of dog such as the African wild dog.
It could also be used in the study of inherited human and dog diseases.
Dogs share many similar diseases with humans – almost twice as many as for any other species.
Dr Travis said the work was an important milestone.
“In vitro fertilisation is a really powerful tool to help preserve endangered species of dog,” he told the BBC.
“IVF is also important for the health of our pets because it opens up the possibility that we could identify certain genes that cause disease and then fix those.”