January 9, 2023 - By Renata Giraldi
Cover image for Brasileiro is the 1st to receive an international award for innovating animal fertilization
Brazilian professor Enoch Borges de Oliveira Filho receives honor from the International Society of Embryo Technology - Photo: reproduction / Jornal da Unesp
For the first time, a Brazilian scientist will be honored for his research on fertilization (IVF) in cows to improve the quality of the national herd! Enoch Borges de Oliveira Filho, a retired veterinary professor at Unesp (São Paulo State University), will receive the Pioneer Award, granted by the International Embryo Technology Society (IETS), the equivalent of a Nobel Prize in the area.
“I am 78 years old and retired from Unesp for 26 years, so the news of this honor was completely unexpected”, said the professor, who will receive the award at the ceremony, between the 16th and 19th of January, in Lima, in Peru.
IETS is an international entity that brings together researchers and professionals related to animal embryology and reproduction.
The award is given annually as a way of recognizing individuals who have made seminal contributions to the development of the area, and this is the first time that it has been given to a Brazilian.
For the researcher, the technique developed by him in partnership with his team, based on in vitro fertilization (IVF) is one of the factors that contribute to the continuous genetic improvement of the Brazilian herd, whether for beef or milk production.
Currently, IVF is a nationally widespread and increasingly accessible technology, with the emergence of specialized companies and the establishment of a rapidly growing market.
“I am happy to have been chosen among so many researchers from Europe and the United States and I share the honor with my Brazilian colleagues who are in the battle”, said the retired professor.
Then, the researcher said: “We don't have a Nobel Prize for the area, but it's like this prize was a Nobel. It shows that it is possible to do things well in Brazil without necessarily thinking about money”.
In the laboratory on the Jaboticabal campus, in the early 1990s, the researcher adapted the in vitro fertilization (IVF) biotechnique developed in Europe to the Brazilian context.
According to the most recent report produced by the International Embryo Technology Society, in 2013 Brazil produced more than 366,000 bovine embryos using the IVF technique – representing more than 70% of the procedures in the world.
Research shows that the main advantages of using in vitro fertilization are the possibility of accelerating the production of calves with superior genetic characteristics, making it possible to improve the quality of the herd in less time than the so-called natural mating process.
Scientists collect oocytes (female sex cells) from previously selected females, the material is kept in the laboratory until it reaches the point of maturation, when it is then placed in a suitable medium for fertilization by spermatozoa from males also selected.
“Our herd is different from those in European countries or even the United States. It is mainly made up of zebu, a type of cattle that comes from India and, as it is more resistant to heat, has adapted much better to Brazil than animals from a temperate climate,” said the researcher.
According to the professor, the nature of these animals “is very delicate, even more so when we talk specifically about fertilization of the fertilization process”.
Even using the same equipment and the same techniques learned and used in Europe, Oliveira Filho spent a year without being able to repeat, in Brazil, the results obtained in his postdoctoral studies.
To produce the first animal from IVF required a collective effort by researchers from different parts of the world. In the early 1990s, the researcher organized an international symposium on animal reproduction in Jaboticabal, in which he brought together the main researchers in the area of embryology that he met abroad and who also worked with the technique.
After the event, some participants remained in the city for an “intensive” experiment in which they sought to decipher the challenges to efficiently apply the technique to zebu cattle.
The collective effort yielded, in 1993, the first calves resulting from IVF in Brazil.
“Those were days of a very precious exchange of information. The symposium gave rise to a book that guided Brazilian science in the area of animal reproduction for years”, said the researcher, referring to the book Manipulating the Mammalian Embryo, from 1990, which was edited by FCAV, from Jaboticabal.