Embryo transfer in water buffalo put college in limelight

Drs. Maarten Drost and Wyland Cripe with "Herman," the first water buffalo calf born as the result of an embryo transfer.

Drs. Maarten Drost and Wyland Cripe with “Herman,” the first water buffalo calf born as the result of an embryo transfer back in 1983.

By Sarah Carey

Thirty years ago last month, Dr. Wyland Cripe and Maarten Drost helped put the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine in the international limelight with their successful transfer of a water buffalo embryo. The birth of a healthy water buffalo calf named Herman was the first successful embryo transfer in that species in the world.

Dr. Joseph Wright of Texas and Dr. Andreas Richter (a 1987 graduate of the UF CVM) were also members of the team. Drost and Cripe both worked in food animal medicine and Drost was a specialist in reproductive technology.

The hope was to expedite the increase of the small number of water buffalo in North America from several hundred — located in zoos and animal parks — to commercial farms for the production of milk and mozzarella cheese. Those hopes only partially panned out, Drost said, due to the low success rate of this technology in water buffalo.

By nature, water buffalo are not very fertile,  he said.

“Besides, water buffalo really cannot compete with cattle in terms of meat and milk production,” Drost said. “However, UF’s efforts were still instrumental in expanding the numbers of water buffalo in the United States and Canada.”

Both Cripe and Drost remain in Gainesville as emeritus professors, and the two reminisced recently at Cripe’s home in Micanopy about “old times” and their embryo transfer success.

“The calf was born on March 18, 1983, and we reported our findings in December of that year at the first World Buffalo Conference in Cairo, Egypt,” Drost said. “We met scientists from Bulgaria who had attempted the technique, to no avail. They invited us to their country for a joint try, which resulted in the birth of five embryo transfer calves, the first ones born in Europe.”

Drost said he would be speaking to the Society For Theriogenology student club at the University of California/Davis on April 5 on the topic of “Bubaline vs. Bovine Reproduction.” The talk would be similar to the talk he gave to the SFT club students at Iowa State University a few years ago.  The talk compares the anatomy, physiology and endocrinology of the two genera, Bubalus bubalis and Bos taurus, and highlights the domestic cow as a model for artificial reproductive technology.

Although Drost has now been retired from UF for 10 years, he said he still receives many questions about buffalo reproduction.

“Scientifically it was good. The University of Florida provided the latest knowledge in reproductive biotechnology and it has led to a significant amount of international collaboration. We learned a lot and shared the information with others, so the spin-off was all good,” he said.


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April 2013

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