Biosecurity has always been a main topic for pig breeder PIC, which was founded exactly 50 years ago. In its anniversary year, the Genus company opened a GeneTransfer Centre of Excellence, right in the heart of Britain.
If the success of an artificial insemination (AI) laboratory would be solely dependent on its location – then the novel PIC artificial insemination laboratory is a qualified success. Located in the middle of a huge Unilever research complex in the Bedfordshire countryside, Colworth Science Park exudes a dedicated scientific focus.
Since early this year, a fragment of the science park has been occupied by pig breeder PIC, part of Genus. In January, the company officially opened its first ‘Gene Transfer Centre of Excellence,’ destined to greatly expand the company’s opportunities on the UK market. Creating distance between research and boar stud – that is the key, explains Sue Corning, PIC manager, UK.
“In the Netherlands, boar studs have always been located where the pigs are. In the UK, however, you’ll see that boar studs have always been where the pigs are not. Health has always been key – we don’t want to be near other pigs and we don’t allow any visitors. So what the Centre of Excellence aims to do is to allow scientists to work together, with each other as well as with visitors; there are opportunities to investigate, discuss, give feedback, et cetera.”The lab marks another step forward, Sue Corning indicates. “This lab is set up entirely dedicated to porcine semen assessment which will also include a porcine artificial insemination R&D programme, directly relevant to their customer base, i.e. tailored to meet objectives defined by the customers.”
PIC, with five boar studs throughout the UK (in Scotland, Norfolk, Berkshire, Hampshire and Shropshire) has invested about £140,000 (€168,000) in creating the new centre. The breeding company started to move in during 2011, but went on till early this year when all the equipment had been properly installed and prepared.
The new laboratory has several high-tech and modern pieces of equipment, such as a flow cytometer for simultaneous analysis of physical and chemical properties of sperm cells and a ‘Hamilton Thorn-Integrated Visual Optical System (IVOS)’ device, used for measuring sperm motility. Various other machines also help to acquire more data about sperm cells whereas others have been placed to train new staff. Some initial research focused on the effects of AI dose increase, pooling semen and the effect of semen age.Reviewing options to improve reproductive performance has always been important to PIC, Sue Corning says. “The new lab provides us with a facility to measure characteristics of semen which were not previously available to us, such as sperm viability. More detailed semen assessment work at the lab will be directed at improving the product to take account of unique UK conditions, e.g. serving sow outdoors, but will also be available to provide more detailed information to help in the interpretation of on farm trial work.”
Besides a testing laboratory, the new home also houses the team who co-ordinate the pig semen distribution for the whole of the UK. The lives of about 80,000 pigs per week begins here.
No opening without a celebratory gift – for the occasion a heavy bronze statue of a pig’s head was revealed by Sue Corning and Andrew Saunders, Tulip. If only for the sake of the movers’ health it is to be hoped that the laboratory will stay in this location for quite some time… PP