Boosting Bovine Breeding: Scientists Create Early Stage Cattle Embryos in the Lab


The Context: Livestock breeding is an especially important part of food production and the American economy, but the process can be difficult and unpredictable. Developing approaches to make livestock breeding less risky and time consuming will be important for optimizing food production.

The Study: For the first time, scientists have used stem cells to create cattle blastoids (structures that model blastocysts – 5-6 day old embryos) in the lab — an important step towards better reproductive technologies for cattle breeding. This work, published in Cell Stem Cell, was led by NYSCF – Robertson Stem Cell Investigator Jun Wu, PhD, of UT Southwestern Medical Center.

The Importance: This technology could lead to more efficient beef or dairy production, as well as help to reduce disease incidence in livestock.

“Bovine blastoids represent a valuable model to study early embryo development and understand the causes of early embryonic loss,” said Dr. Wu, an Assistant Professor of Molecular Biology and the Virginia Murchison Linthicum Scholar in Medical Research, in a press release

“This study is the first demonstration of generating blastocyst-like structures (blastoids) from a livestock species,” he continued. “With further optimization, the advancements in bovine blastoid technology could pave the way for innovative artificial reproductive methodologies in cattle breeding. This could, in turn, revolutionize traditional approaches to cattle breeding and herald a new era in livestock industry practices.”

Building Bovine Blastoids

The team – which included members from Brazil, China, and the U.S. – used stem cells to create the blastoids, building on previous work by Dr. Wu that created similar mouse and human embryo models. The team were excited to see that their lab-made cattle blastoids resembled those made naturally by cows: they were a similar size and makeup, and elicited maternal recognition signaling (the body’s response to pregnancy) upon transfer to recipient cows.

“We were able to develop an efficient and robust protocol to generate bovine blastoids by assembling bovine embryonic and trophoblast stem cells that can self-organize and faithfully re-create all three blastocyst lineages,” said lead author Carlos A. Pinzón-Arteaga, DVM, MS, a student in Dr. Wu’s lab. “Future comparisons with in vivo-produced embryos are still needed to better evaluate the blastoid model.”

Implications for Human Development

This work doesn’t just give farmers a potential leg up on cattle breeding – the bovine blastoids also create the opportunity for more research on embryonic development, which is difficult to study due to limited access to early-stage embryos for research.

“Early human development can be a black box in that it’s a bit mysterious and really difficult to secure enough human early embryonic tissues and cells to study it comprehensively,” noted Dr. Wu.

Dr. Wu’s innovative stem cell approaches like this one open the door for demystifying the fundamental processes of embryo formation and development.

Journal Article:

Bovine blastocyst-like structures derived from stem cell cultures
Carlos A. Pinzón-Arteaga, Yinjuan Wang, Yulei Wei, Ana E. Ribeiro Orsi, Leijie Li, Giovanna Scatolin, Lizhong Liu, Masahiro Sakurai, Jianfeng Ye, Hao Ming, Leqian Yu, Bo Li, Zongliang Jiang, Jun Wu. Cell Stem Cell. 2023. DOI:

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