Boviteq has been a strong partner in the bovine genetics field since 1986. The technologically oriented firm is a leader in Canada and a fierce competitor in the United States. With a range of finely honed genetic and reproductive solutions for dairy and stock herd producers, the business stands out as an innovative force in the livestock agriculture sector.
The business performs research for artificial insemination (AI) and in-vitro fertilization (IVF) primarily for parent company, Semex. Boviteq has made significant advancements in the field of assisted reproductive technologies over the last three decades and continues to leverage strong resources with a service-heavy philosophy to provide premier services for producers throughout North America and beyond.
Dr. Patrick Blondin, Ph.D., serves as Boviteq’s director of Embryo Operations and Semex’s director of Research and Development (R&D). Before coming to work for the genetic powerhouse, he earned his doctorate at Laval University in 1997 and completed a two-year postdoctoral internship at North Carolina State University. He has worked with Semex and Boviteq since 2003.
He works with a qualified leadership team at Boviteq, which includes Melissa Bowers, embryo program manager, Dr Francois-Xavier Grand and Dr Roxanne Remillard, veterinary specialists, Valerie Fournier, IVF laboratory manager, Dr Christian Vigneault, R&D supervisor, and Sebastien Ouellet, senior accountant.
At the company’s Canadian Laboratory in Saint-Hyacinthe, Quebec, the team oversees 45 employees, between administration, research, laboratories and on-site farm operations. At Boviteq’s Madison, Wisconsin, office, the company employs 10 people. While U.S. operations are growing, the facility currently operates exclusively as an IVF laboratory.
Working with donor cows at the Canadian facility or with Accredited Satellite Ovum Pick Up (OPU) centers, clients can take advantage of Boviteq's innovative reproductive technologies. “Our goal is to make available a range of options to enable breeders to optimize the reproductive career of their elite animals and manage the genetic advancement of their herds,” says Blondin.
One of the latest additions to the Boviteq line of services in Canada and in the U.S. is Accredited Satellite OPU centers. “As part of our integrated IVF platform, we take the oocyte from a cow, fertilize it, then transport the embryo to a recipient that acts as an incubator,” Blondin explains. “The result is still the offspring of the original donor.”
For this, over the last few years, Boviteq has initialized collaborations with external veterinarians in Canada and the U.S. “We train them on the OPU procedures we have perfected, as well as how to prepare donor cows before OPU,” Blondin continues. “They act as exclusive partners to Boviteq to harvest the oocytes from donors on satellite sites or directly at the farms. They then have a 24-hour window to get those eggs to us so we can put then through our IVF platform to produce in-vitro embryos.”
Boviteq has developed all the tools, media suite and procedures necessary to transport sensitive genetic material across Canada or the U.S. within a critical 24-hour window. The company has developed transportation procedures to ensure the safe and efficient movement of oocytes and embryos. Now Boviteq is able to receive these materials in time to fertilize with whichever sire the client would like to use and then produce viable embryos.
From the point of fertilization, clients have a number of options. “Right now, we can send back a fresh embryo to our customers,” says Blondin. “The procedure of fertilization and producing a viable embryo takes six days – that’s how long it takes for us to mimic the natural reproductive processes that happen in cows. The end result is a 7-day-old embryo.”
Fresh or frozen
Once the oocytes are fertilized and have matured into fully-fledged embryos, Boviteq can send them back fresh to producers. “We use a different set of media for embryo transport” says Blondin. “We then work with the veterinarian on-site, who can transfer the embryos in recipients on the client’s farm.”
The company can also freeze IVF-produced embryos on Day Seven. “It’s actually very similar to how we freeze conventional embryos,” Blondin elaborates. “They are in straws that can be sent back to the farmer who can store and transfer at any time using conventional direct transfer procedures. It can be days, weeks, even years before the frozen embryos are transferred.”
Boviteq is also certified by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the United States Department of Agriculture to be able to produce and freeze embryos in conditions that respect export qualifications. The company can then export frozen embryos to different countries around the world from both its Canadian and American IVF laboratories.
While transporting embryos is an approved practice, customs do not allow the business to transport oocytes across borders. “That is why we decided to open our location in the U.S.,” Blondin explains. “Our Quebec IVF laboratory serves Canadian producers, while our location in Wisconsin serves American producers. While it would have been logical on our end some time ago to take on business from both countries at our location in Quebec, the rise of demand for these services necessitated a second laboratory. The lab in Canada has been open for more than 20 years while the U.S. lab has only been open for two and already manages the same volume of IVF cycles.”
Standing out with expertise
In the United States, Boviteq does face larger competition. With two major U.S.-based genetics companies vying for clients as well as a new contender moving in from Brazil, producers have options. Still, Boviteq offers competitive service and value and Blondin is not concerned about being overtaken in the market.
In Canada, Boviteq is the only company of its size offering these services. While there are many smaller labs throughout the country, many attached to universities, the firm exceeds other options significantly in terms of volume and ratio of viable embryos.
“IVF is not a new concept,” explains Blondin. “This technology has existed for more than 20 years. Everybody knows about it especially in human applications. What has changed is that with recent innovations, sex semen, genomics and being able to successfully freeze embryos with good post-thaw survival, IVF is seeing more use. In the last three to five years, it has been a major focus of discussion as a tool that will help farmers be more efficient and competitive in our industry.”
While IVF technology is nothing new, many mistake its frequency for simplicity. Blondin says there are nearly as many IVF systems as companies out there performing it. “Everyone says they can do IVF, but it’s a technology that requires a lot of attention to details,” he notes. “We are tasked with emulating what the reproductive system of a cow does over a seven-day period, including every single event from creating an oocyte, fertilizing it with sperm and producing a quality embryo. There are a lot of steps and it’s not easy.”
Blondin and his team put in serious work to produce the maximum number of quality embryos. While many other laboratories have perfected practices to produce high quantity, the quality aspect is lacking. “Producers buy pregnancies, not just embryos,” he states. “We focus as much on quality as we do on quantity. Our philosophy is to promote quality, we need to apply everything we can to keep systems at the highest standards, creating high quality embryos to achieve high pregnancy rates. This takes a high level of time, infrastructure and technology.”
Over the coming years, Blondin and his team will continue to push the boundaries of technology. Semex and Boviteq maintains a fierce commitment to innovation in IVF and genetic development. As the team works to improve systems and increase the output of viable embryos, the business maintains a service-first approach and makes its services available and as easy to use as possible for producers.
The growing OPU program is taking off. In phase two, the business is building up its marketing in order to reach new potential clients. Reaching out to new markets in Canada, the U.S. and abroad, Boviteq is extending qualified reproductive services to producers everywhere.
With the time, infrastructure and technology to stand out in the agricultural sector, Boviteq will continue to drive new developments in bovine genetic technology.