Written by Professor Jeremy G. Thompson himself, he shares insights into his passion for the ruminant IVF industry, his extensive research history and where cattle IVF is headed for the future.
“My passion for ruminant, especially cattle, IVF was born from two things: Being a city lad but with many relatives on my mother’s side were farming, I loved working on farms, the beauty of the country and the enjoyment of working with animals; and appreciating that the research work could lead to real benefits to industries important to the Australian and New Zealand economies. Besides, unlike human IVF, when I began studying ruminant IVF, it didn’t work at all. So there was the challenge there that remains, of improving it.
I had just finished my B.Sc. (Honours) on the ‘reproductive activity’ of an Australian native mouse (!) in 1980 and was looking for something to do when I was approached by the legendary Prof. Bob Seamark asking if I wanted a temporary job as a goat embryologist working on a farm/breeding centre in the Adelaide. They were long days and not much sleep, as I was embryologist and farm-hand all in one. It was a life-changing experience. It led me to the Vet School at University of Queensland to do my PhD on IVF in sheep, which then led me to a short-post doc at Murdoch Uni vet school in Western Australia, with Prof. Ray Wales. The project was looking at creating transgenic sheep with different wool properties. Alas, the funding was halted prematurely. At that time IVF in humans was in its formative days and I was exposed to clinical IVF for a very brief period. Looking for where to go next, I was approached to be recruited to the then Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (MAF) research centre, Ruakura, on the outskirts of Hamilton, New Zealand, filling the shoes by the departure of another doyen of the field, H. Robin Tervit, who had been attracted into a commercial breeding company. These were heady days when multiple ovulation and embryo transfer (MOET) technology had matured in sheep and cattle to the point where breeding using MOET was having a major impact on changing the genetics of flocks and herds. The NZ government had wanted to introduce new breeds of sheep into the country by MOET via embryo cryopreservation. Robin had gone to Scandinavia and collected and froze the embryos, but then left MAF. I was recruited to continue the program, a huge responsibility for a young post-doc. Fortunately, before too long, Robin returned and we formed a great research team and friendship that continues today. This where the transition from sheep to cattle IVF also began for me, as dairying is such a large industry in NZ.
After 13 years there, with one year in York (UK) on sabbatical with Prof. Henry Leese, with whom I learnt so much about metabolism of the embryo, it was time to return to Australia with my young family. I was approached by both Profs. Rob Norman and Sarah Robertson from The University of Adelaide in 1999, to manage the clinical laboratories that served the clinical infertility group, ‘Repromed’. I had only been an observer of human IVF, but this plunged me directly into clinical practice. Although I learnt a lot and still engage with clinical IVF, I found that I missed the research and the work on cattle IVF too much. Fortunately, I convinced Michelle Lane to come to Adelaide, where she took over the running of the clinical IVF programs, and following successful applications for research fellowship and grants, I returned to being a full time researcher in 2004, where I remained until this year.
My time at Adelaide has been special, mainly because of the cutting edge work conducted there in gamete and embryo biology with great researchers such as Prof. Rob Gilchrist and more recently with Dr. Kylie Dunning. I was blessed with being involved in large block grants throughout my time in Adelaide, and with entities such as The Robinson Research Institute, ARC Centre of Excellence for Nanoscale Biophotonics and more recently the great collaboration with the Davies Research Centre.
Ruminant ART research in Australia is hampered by the fact that few veterinary and/or animal science schools teach it. At present, with current technologies, it has limited opportunity for new career pathways. Over the past 2 decades, incremental improvements have occurred that are making IVF more attractive, but still requires a revolution in technological impact to make it highly attractive for industry. I am convinced that, not just in Australia, globally we need IVF in ruminants to be simpler, yet more efficient and with less cost. If we succeed, it will provide more meat of higher quality, but with fewer animals and will be more ethically produced. There is a future for cattle IVF, because we are so close to solving the previously intractable problems of reduced efficiency and higher costs. Automation of all aspects of the lab production will be feasible in the next few years, it just needs investment first and training opportunities as well.”
If you would like to know more about Jeremy’s history, contact him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org