The objective of this study was to compare bovine and ovine oocytes in terms of (1) developmental rates following maturation, fertilization, and culture in vitro, (2) the quality of blastocysts produced in vitro, assessed in terms of their ability to undergo cryopreservation, and (3) the ultrastructural morphology of these blastocysts. In vitro blastocysts were produced following oocyte maturation/fertilization and culture of presumptive zygotes in synthetic oviduct fluid. In vivo blastocysts were used as a control from both species. In Experiment 1, the cleavage rate of bovine oocytes was significantly higher than that of ovine oocytes (78.3% vs. 58.0%, respectively, P < 0.001). The overall blastocyst yield was similar for both species (28.7% vs. 29.0%). However, when corrected for cleavage rate, significantly more ovine oocytes reached the blastocyst stage at all time-points (36.6% vs. 50.0% on day 8, for bovine and ovine, respectively, P < 0.001). Following vitrification, there was no difference in survival between in vivo produced bovine and ovine blastocysts (72 hr: 85.7% vs. 75.0%). However, IVP ovine blastocysts survived at significantly higher rates than IVP bovine blastocysts at all time points (72 hr: 47.4% vs. 18.1%, P < 0.001). At the ultrastructural level, compared with their in vivo counterparts, IVP blastocysts were characterized by a lack of desmosomal junctions, a reduction in the microvilli population, an increase in the average number of lipid droplets and increased debris in the perivitelline space and intercellular cavities. These differences were more marked in bovine IVP blastocysts, which also displayed electron-lucent mitochondria and large intercellular cavities. These observations may in part explain the species differences observed in terms of cryotolerance. In conclusion, the quality of ovine blastocysts was significantly higher than their bovine counterparts produced under identical in vitro conditions suggesting inherent species differences between these two groups affecting embryo quality.
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