The objective of this study was to compare the relative transcript abundance of several important candidate genes between ovine and bovine blastocysts. Blastocysts were produced by in vitro maturation, fertilization, and subsequent culture in one of two formulations of synthetic oviduct fluid medium (SOF1 and SOF2). From each IVF replicate groups of 10 bovine and 10 ovine blastocysts from each of the two media were used for analysis of mRNA relative abundance. Transcript levels for mitochondrial Mn-superoxide dismutase (MnSOD), survivin, and glucose transport 5 (Glut-5) were significantly higher in ovine blastocysts than bovine (P < 0.05), while transcripts for Connexin 31 (Cx31), interferon tau (IFN-tau), and sarcosine oxidase (SOX) were significantly more abundant in bovine blastocysts (P < 0.01). For the two remaining transcripts, E-cadherin (E-cad) and Na/K ATPase (Na/K), there was no difference. Culture of bovine embryos in SOF2 resulted in a significant increase in the level of expression of MnSOD and Glut-5 (P < 0.05) compared to those bovine embryos cultured in SOF1. For all the other transcripts, except survivin, there was a significant decrease in the relative abundance. Culture of sheep embryos in either SOF1 or SOF2 did not have a major influence on transcript abundance; of the eight transcripts examined, the relative abundance of only one, SOX, was significantly altered. Bovine blastocysts produced in SOF2 had significantly higher survival rates at 24, 48, and 72 hr and significantly higher hatching rates following vitrification and warming than those cultured in SOF1 (P < 0.001). In conclusion, we have quantified for the first time the mRNA expression of a set of important developmental genes in sheep blastocysts and we have demonstrated that these differences between species in their adaptability to culture conditions, manifested in differences in embryo morphology and cryotolerance, are related to differences in mRNA relative abundance. The results also highlight the usefulness of transcript analysis as a marker of embryo quality.
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