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Pig breeders to pre-select sex of piglets

Press release issued: 12 September 2006

A global deal has been signed for a new genetic technology which could allow pig breeders to pre-select the sex of new-born animals.


A global deal has been signed for a new genetic technology which could allow pig breeders to pre-select the sex of new-born animals. The deal is between Ovasort Limited and the owners of Danish Bacon.

Ovasort, a company originally spun out of the University of Bristol Veterinary School and now based in Wales, is undertaking a major research and development programme. The team aims to develop the world's first low-cost, high-volume sperm separation technology acting at the cell surface, allowing production of male-enriched or female-enriched pig semen.

This technology could dramatically improve the commercial efficiency of supplying breeding gilts (young female pigs) to the pig industry. It would also result in fewer male piglets being born, reducing the requirements for castration or unnecessary slaughter.

Ovasort has now signed an exclusive global licensing agreement for the use of the technology in pigs with Dansk Svineproduktion (Danish Pig Production) who operate as Danish Bacon in the UK. The major Norwegian pig-breeding co-operative, Norsvin, will also work with Dansk Svineproduktion on the collaboration.

The present research programme is directed by Ovasort's Chief Scientific Officer, Dr Ian Brewis, Lecturer in Proteomics and Bioinformatics at Cardiff University and expert on the study of the sperm cell surface. Dr Brewis also heads the Cardiff Proteomics Research Centre which employs state-of-the-art approaches to analyse proteins in biomedical research.

Ovasort has also just won a prestigious SMART Cymru Award from the Welsh Assembly Government for the commercial development of this potentially very valuable new technology.

The technology will produce specific molecules which bind together X-chromosome bearing (female) sperm cells, leaving unbound Y-chromosome (male) cells free to be filtered from the sample. The bound of 'agglutinated' female cells can then be de-agglutinated leaving two separate populations of cells for immediate incorporation into a conventional Artificial Insemination dose of sexed semen. The technology also has the potential for exploitation in cattle and other livestock.

Dansk Svineproduktion is part of the newly re-organised Danish pig industry. Its main areas of work are in pig breeding, animal health, nutrition, reproduction, housing and production systems. Head of the Dansk Svineproduktion Department for Nutrition and Reproduction, Neils Kjeldsen, said: "This patented technology offers enormous potential to livestock farmers, and we are pleased to be collaborating with Ovasort in the pig sector, and to be their licensee worldwide."

Welsh Assembly Government Bioscience Sector Manager, Dr Bob Wallis, said: "We were very impressed by the quality and experience of the Ovasort management team, and are delighted that we can support this exciting Welsh-based company here in Cardiff. The Ovasort approach to the discovery of new proteins at the cell surface could be decisive in confirming the existence of sex-linked surface proteins in sperm for the first time and may provide a means of selecting for male or female offspring. It is no surprise that they have attracted such a major collaborator s Dansk Svineproduktion."

Ovasort CEO Dr Ian Cumming said: "The advances made in the fields of genomics and proteomics, along with the development of ever-more sensitive instrumentation means that with the assistance of Dansk Svineproduktion we can address the problem of semen sexing in a way which was not possible even two years ago. Levels of protein detection are now a million times more sensitive, which means that the Ovasort technology can be exploited successfully not only in pigs, but also cattle and some other farm species on a low-cost high-volume basis which will deliver a product that the farmer can afford, and we will shortly be seeking a partner for the cattle sector."

Further information

Please contact Sadia Haq for further information.
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