The Program focuses on the following research approaches:

  1. Reproductive Physiology and Technologies: (General physiology, Endocrinology, In vitro embryo production, Multiple ovulation embryo transfer, Embryo splitting, Sexing technology, Ooegenesis and Spermatogenesis, Nuclear transfer,  Capacity building).
     
  2. Cryobiology of sperm, oocyte, somatic cell and embryos: (Cryopreservation: Slow freezing, Vitrification, Dried freezing and capacity building).

  3. Livestock Conservation (In-situ & Ex-situ, genetic characterisation and capacity building).
     
  4. CASA: Evaluation of male fertility
     
  5. Assisted Reproductive Technologies project (ART) focusing on small holder farmers.


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Germplasm laboratory, cryo-tank storage and interior view of the ARC Liquid Nitrogen plant


South Africa does not stand alone in facing the global challenges of a rising population and diminishing natural resources, food shortages, particularly of high grade protein, are likely in future. In response to this challenge the Agricultural Research Council has established a programme for the conservation and development of indigenous livestock that combines traditional conservation approaches with modern biotechnological techniques.

The Agricultural Research Council – Germplasm Conservation & Reproductive Biotechnologies has partnership with Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and Technology Innovation Agency in research project. Moreover, collaborate with international institutions as well as national institutions such as University of Western Cape, University of Free State, University of Limpopo, Tshwane University of Technology, Central University of Technology and University of Zululand.

Livestock represents a significant part of Africa's agricultural biodiversity, with 25 domesticated animal species contributing to livelihood of its population. In South Africa, a vast amount of scientific and popular literature has accumulated over the last three centuries. This is being collected and put on a database. The latter is available to the public and has a wealth of information from countries worldwide. It can be viewed at www.fao.org/dad-is. These animals not only represent a valuable contribution to the rich biodiversity of South Africa but their hardiness also makes them suitable for the challenges facing emerging farmers. Consequently, there is a general lack of awareness as to the value and the declining numbers of indigenous livestock.

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Nguni cattle
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     Indigenous goat
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Zulu sheep
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Venda chickens
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Windsnyer pigs
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Kolbroek pigs
                                                        

The GCRB programme plays an educational role in that it includes the exhibition of prime examples of indigenous livestock at agricultural shows, gives talks about their value to farmers, and transfer technology especially to emerging farmers. The small stock unit of the GCRB provide training courses to the emerging small stock farmers and is accredited by AGRISETA. Genetic materials are also cryopreserved and banked in ARC-Animal Production Institute. Cryopreservation, the freezing of live gametes (ova or semen) or tissue at a very low temperature (anything from -80°C to -196°C), is a science that has developed rapidly over the last few decades. It is used to preserve germplasm (embryos, sperm, eggs and somatic cells) of endangered breeds. Members of the of GCRB programme have already developed the techniques for the freezing of cattle and chicken semen and work on sheep, goats and pigs is underway. Cattle and sheep embryos have also been successfully frozen. The ultimate aim of these advances is to establish a cryo-bank containing material that can be used to reintroduce livestock breeds that have either disappeared or become endangered as a result of inbreeding and disease.

 
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Matured bovine oocytes, zygote and hatched stained embryo

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Nguni bull sperm stained with Eosin-Nigrosin stain and SYBR-14/Propidium Iodide (PI)
 

Cattle from poor communities are an important but unproductive asset of South Africa as these herds comprise some 40% of the national herd but contribute only 5% to South Africa's GDP from beef. One of the main challenges in the emerging agricultural sector is that many farmers don't have high quality bulls, which causes low breeding rates and slow growth in the herd. Moreover, there is a calving rate of just 40%, compared to 65-85% in the commercial and stud sectors. And half of calves born in emerging farmer herds die before they are weaned, compared to just 2% in commercial herds. Identification of fertile male animals is also a challenging factor to the farmers. In response to these challenges, the GCRB programme is conducting research to find protein markers associated with high fertility in male animals and also applying modern assisted reproductive technologies (ART) such as artificial insemination (AI) and multiple ovulation embryo transfer (MOET) to improve the calving and fertility rate. Consequently, these efforts will improve the profitability and long-term viability of the rural emerging beef sector, and further enhance their wider contribution to South African beef industry. Additionally, training initiatives to educate emerging farmers are conducted to explain the benefits ART.

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Artificial insemination and pregnancy diagnosis using ultrasound scanner done by an ARC officials and
calves born following oestrus synchronization and artificial insemination


GCRB programme has advanced state of the art mobile laboratory equipment such as Computer Aided Sperm Analysis (CASA) known as Sperm Class Analyzer® which analyse sperm objectively following our developed standardized protocols for different livestock breeds and wild game. A CASA system is a necessary technique to standardize all characteristics information of the sperm.

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Computer Aided Sperm Analysis (CASA) known as Sperm Class Analyzer® (SCA®) ​ ​
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​ ​ ​Exterior and interior view of the ARC-API Gamete-Tek Mobile Laboratory


Contact: 
Ms Dikeledi Seema, Administrative Assistant: Germplasm Conservation and Reproductive Biotechnologies (GCRB)
P/Bag X2, IRENE, 0062, RSA; Tel: (012) 672 9200; Email: seemad@arc.agric.za

 
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