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Beyond the Bale : March 2019
48 ON FARM WORLD’S OLDEST SPERM STILL SWIMMING STRONG Woolgrowers last month gathered at the Balmoral Sire Evaluation Field Day in Victoria to see first-hand the progeny of ewes inseminated with thawed 50-year-old frozen ram semen. The old semen achieved similar pregnancy scanning results and live births to the recently collected semen. Frozen in 1968 by Dr Steven Salamon of The University of Sydney, the 50-year-old semen comprises a pool of semen from four rams: a 1959 drop Bonooke ram, a 1963 drop Merryville ram and sons of them that were born in 1963 and 1965 owned at the time by the Walker family of Ledgworth (and latterly Woolaroo), Yass. Peter Walker has been a long-time supporter of the R&D and attended the Field Day along with current and former researchers from The University of Sydney. Originally frozen to prove sperm could survive storage in liquid nitrogen (-196°C) for several years, this bank of semen is to the best of our knowledge the oldest in existence of any species (human or animal) anywhere in the world. For researchers Associate Professor Simon de Graaf and Dr Jessica Rickard at The University of Sydney, looking down the microscope at sperm cells swimming for the first time in 50 years, is a reminder of the remarkable discoveries their predecessors made to enable the commercial development of artificial insemination of sheep. Despite 50 years of storage, the semen is as fertile as the day it was frozen, with pregnancy and scanning rates no different to the overall average of all sires (also artificially inseminated) in the Balmoral program. The fertility of this semen demonstrates that long term frozen storage of sperm is safe and reliably preserves genetics for future use, not just for agriculture but also human medicine. This is of particular importance to young male cancer patients, who have stored semen prior to radiation treatment and/or chemotherapy and may want to start a family decades later but are unable to conceive naturally. This brought international media attention to the Field Day. Much of the early artificial breeding work in sheep informed the development of many human reproductive technologies, often only applied in human medicine long after their availability in sheep. Peter Walker and his sheep were also involved in some of the pre commercialisation work for the human contraceptive pill, first released in the late 1960s. The 2018 drop lambs on display were only six months old with six months wool but the lambs by the pooled semen certainly looked different to the progeny of current sires. The comparison of the performance and visual traits will be of great interest to woolgrowers, researchers and the wider industry as the lambs are assessed over the next two years. They will be shorn for the first time in April 2019 and will again be on display for the 2020 Balmoral Field Day before being shorn for the second time in April 2020. Reports on the 2018 drop Sire Evaluation will be available on the Merino Superior Sires website merinosuperiorsires.com.au in May 2019 after their first shearing. AWI’s predecessors, the Australian Wool Board, Australian Wool Commission, Australian Wool Corporation and Australian Wool Research and Promotion Organisation (AWRAP), co-funded much of the pioneering work into oestrus synchronisation, frozen semen and laparoscopic insemination technology with The University of Sydney’s former researchers, Professors Terry Robinson, Gareth Evans, Chis Maxwell and Dr Steven Salamon. Continuing investment from AWI in The University of Sydney’s current research projects support Associate Professor Simon de Graaf (a student of both Evans and Maxwell) and Dr Jessica Rickard (a student of de Graaf; current McCaughey Research Fellow) to build on this legacy and deliver the next generation of assisted reproductive technologies for the sheep industry in a changing world where consumers are increasingly sensitive to laparoscopic AI and the use of PMSG (Pregnant Mare Serum Gonadatropin) to stimulate the ewe to cycle. At the Balmoral Merino Sire Evaluation Field Day, held at ‘Kooringal’ in Coleraine, woolgrowers also heard from guest speakers including AWI Director Don Macdonald, Merino Lifetime Productivity project manager Anne Ramsay, Dr John Steinfort of Steinfort AgVet Pty Ltd and Associate Professor Simon de Graaf of The University of Sydney. MORE INFORMATION The University of Sydney (firstname.lastname@example.org) and AWI Program Manager Genetics (email@example.com) Associate Professor Simon de Graaf, Peter Walker and Dr Jessica Rickard inspecting the progeny from the 50-year-old semen. 17 of the 26-member Balmoral Breeder Committee who put on the Sire Evaluation Field Day led by Chairman and site host Mark Bunge.
In the Shops - March 2019