ART has played a key role in maintaining genetic diversity amongst captive populations. For instance, it is much easier to transport eggs or sperm from one institution to another, than to transport a killer whale or elephant. In addition, there are animals such as the giant panda who simply do not feel any sexual attraction to the mate chosen for them and refuse to oblige scientists by going through the motions. ART solves this problem neatly.
One of Dr Wildt's successes has been the giant panda programme that he has been leading, which involves five Chinese breeding facilities, four North American zoos and more than 65 scientists, representing seven disciplines, on the two continents. Pandas are notoriously poor breeders in captivity, with only a three-day period of fertility a year. Baby pandas have been born after AI using cooled as well as thawed sperm, and from males with terminal disease. The successful multi-dimensional management programme shows the way for the future in ART.
"We have a 10-year plan in place to produce lots of baby pandas that can contribute to a successful, self-sustaining captive population that in the future will allow successful reintroduction to the wild. The goal is something that we call metapopulation management linking zoos to nature. In this case, I could see ART being used to collect sperm from wild giant pandas to help infuse new genes into the captive population, which is producing so many offspring now that reintroduction will be possible. All of this will be connected to extensive training programmes, creating the next generation of scientists who understand the importance of this multi-disciplinary approach."
ART has been used to understand and help many other species. "We have used AR
Contact: Mary Rice
European Society for Human Reproduction and Embryology