Techniques for in vitro production (IVP) of viable embryos have been thoroughly developed in several domestic species in view to improve breeding efficiency. When applied to wild life, these techniques may also help the maintenance of biodiversity through amplification of sparse animals offspring and facilitation of genetic material exchange. During the successive steps of IVP, i.e. oocyte in vitro maturation (IVM), fertilization (IVF) and early embryo development (IVD) to the blastocyst stage, gametes and embryos are faced with unusual environment, including oxidative stress, known to be detrimental to their survival. In the present study, starting from methods developed in domestic species, we have adapted IVP to produce viable red deer embryos. In a first experiment, cumulus cells were removed from in vitro matured oocytes either before or after IVF. The presence of cumulus cells during IVF did not affect final cleavage or development rates. In a second experiment, in vitro matured oocytes were fertilized in the presence of cumulus cells and cultured in SOFaaBSA medium alone or in the presence of ovine oviduct epithelial cell (oOEC) monolayer. Whereas, oviduct cells did not improve the cleavage rate, they significantly increased the rate of embryos reaching the blastocyst stage (from 3 to 25% of total oocytes). Ten blastocysts from oOEC coculture were transferred after freezing and thawing to five recipient hinds and gave rise to three pregnancies. The three pregnant hinds gave birth to three live and normal calves. © 2005 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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