Beyond the bullpen, UWP students lead bovine cow embryo research

October 3, 2002

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PLATTEVILLE-There's hardly any bull about it, when it comes to bovine cow embryo research, University of Wisconsin-Platteville students Stacy Leonard of Blachardville and Sarah Yaun of Monroe have the facts on fertilization.

Both students grew up on dairy farms and are majoring in animal science, Leonard with a dairy emphasis and Yaun with an emphasis in dairy and science. When offered the chance to lead a research project on bovine cow embryos, both women jumped at the opportunity.

A portion of funding for the project comes from the Pioneer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (PURF) grant entitled, "Status and viability of embryos cultured from slaughterhouse oocytes compared to those cultured after transvaginal oocyte recovery." The project began in spring 2000 when UWP Professor of Agriculture Michael Mee collaborated with a graduate student working on her teaching certification. The graduate student, Jill Van Scyndle, had done bovine cow embryo research at UW-Madison as an undergraduate.

"Jill helped set up the project and train me during my second semester, freshman year," Leonard said. "She (the researcher) had all the information and knew what we needed to get started, so the first semester of the project was spent mostly familiarizing me with the project and what I needed to do."

In spring 2001, Yaun was chosen from a number of student applicants to join the research project. Since then, the two women have been conducting various research on bovine cow embryos, with Mee acting as an advisor to the project.

"Previously for the project, we would go to Cuba City and get ovaries from freshly culled cows," Leonard said. "Using a syringe, we collected eggs and matured them in petri dishes to ready them for fertilization. Filtering semen through a straw and depositing it into the petri dishes, we fertilized the eggs. The following day, excess cells and dead sperm is removed."

Leonard and Yaun divided and grew the eggs for seven days, collecting data on which eggs and how many eggs became fertilized. This semester, the women will compare growth rates of eggs from live cows verses cows that have been culled. Eventually, they would like to implant the eggs back into the cows and study which eggs attached, impregnating the cows.

"We've also been observing Rod Alton from Select Sires who goes to area farms injecting hormones into cows to cause ovulation," Yaun said. "The cows are then breed and the eggs are removed. Rod then studies the eggs to determine which eggs are fertilized and healthy. The fertilized, healthy eggs are transplanted into recipient heifers that are studied for impregnation."

Yaun said Alton plans to visit UWP to observe the bovine cow embryo research project. Leonard and Yaun have also given presentations to a number of UWP classes and will present their project at the PURF spring banquet.

"We would also like to encourage high school classes to visit UWP for presentations," Leonard said. "Not only is this project beneficial for it's research aspects, but it's also a valuable teaching tool."

The ultimate goal of Leonard and Yaun's research is to provide data that will aid the agricultural industry in cattle breeding and to create a self-sustaining research lab at UWP for the project.

Both Leonard and Yaun anticipate graduating in May 2004. Leonard said she would like to continue her education and eventually pursue a career in reproduction, genetics and embryology. Yaun said she also plans to continue her education, later earning a degree as a veterinary technician and animal therapist.

Leonard is a member of the Dairy Judging Team, vice president of the Dairy Club and still goes home on the weekends to help out with the family farm. In her free time, she enjoys reading and crafts.

Yaun is also a member of the Dairy Club, as well as the Pre-Vet Club and Gamma Phi Betta. In her free time she lends a helping hand to area farmers doing various jobs related to agriculture.

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