The first ever litter of puppies born through in vitro fertilization was announced earlier this week by researchers from Cornell University and the Smithsonian Institution.
The litter included seven puppies and were born July 10. Five of the puppies are beagles and two are beagle-cocker spaniel mixes. The research was published this week in the scientific journal, PLOS ONE.
In vitro fertilization is the process in which eggs from a female are fertilized with male sperm outside of the body and in the laboratory. The fertilized embryo is then inserted into a female’s uterus so that the fetus (or in this case, fetuses) can grow to full term just like any other baby. This process has been used since the 1970s to assist families who have trouble conceiving naturally.
Even though scientists have had success with human in vitro fertilization, they have struggled for years to reproduce similar results with dogs. Researchers indicate that the trouble comes, in part, because the reproductive cycle of canines differs from that of other types of mammals.
While female humans ovulate about once per month, female dogs only ovulate once or twice per year. Also according to the researchers, the eggs of female dogs are less mature than human eggs during ovulation.
In conducting the new research, scientists expanded upon earlier successes. In 2012, scientists at Cornell were able to “produce” Klondike, the Western Hemisphere’s first puppy born from a frozen embryo. Since then, Travis and his team have worked to make canine in vitro fertilization a reality.
Travis hopes the new technique may eventually be used to assist with breeding endangered species living in captivity.
He also believes that the development opens possibilities in detecting genetic traits that are linked and lead to disease. The process may preemptively fix those traits.
As Travis notes, “Instead of trying to cure disease, we can help prevent it from happening in the first place.”