Te Awamutu company EquiBreed NZ have made history with the birth of New Zealand's first foal produced by an in vitro fertility treatment using intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI).

Company principal Dr Lee Morris, who has been working on perfecting the technique for a number of years, says it is a watershed moment for both EquiBreed and New Zealand.

"The ability to produce foals using this fertility treatment puts New Zealand on the world stage," says Lee.

"Now it will be possible to breed horses using a single sperm cell and to culture the embryos in the laboratory until they are ready for transfer."

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The imported warmblood mare Wonette (by Papillon Rouge out of Sonette who is by Cavalier) is owned by Te Hihi Farms at Karaka and had been unable to carry a pregnancy due to damage sustained from a previous foaling.

After many failed attempts, ICSI became her only option. Sperm was used from showjumping stallion Bravado Ego Z to produce a chestnut filly in Sienna.

History maker: Filly Sienna is New Zealand's first foal produced by an in vitro fertility treatment using intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI). Photo / Cheleken Photography
History maker: Filly Sienna is New Zealand's first foal produced by an in vitro fertility treatment using intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI). Photo / Cheleken Photography

The ICSI procedure used is very similar to that used in humans and involves recovering eggs from the mare's ovaries while she is sedated.

The eggs are cultured in the laboratory until they are ready for fertilisation. Then a tiny amount of semen is washed and a single sperm cell selected for injection into each egg.
The resulting embryos are cultured for eight to 10 days in the laboratory before being transferred to a surrogate mare or frozen for future use.

That ICSI can now been done in New Zealand has opened up a new world for Kiwi breeders. It is already taking the United States and Europe by storm.

"This technique will allow Kiwi breeders to overcome fertility problems in their mares and access better genetics from all over the world as well as produce embryos at a fraction of the cost of a regular embryo transfer programme," says Lee.