Sperm Morphology: Research Update for Cattle Vets


In May this year, QSML’s Director and Senior Advisory Morphologist, Dr Viv Perry, was asked to address audiences on an international stage, at both the “Theory into Practice” International Bull Fertility Conference in Westport, Ireland and the Australian Veterinary Association Annual Conference in Brisbane.

Dr Perry completed her PhD in bull fertility at the University of Queensland Veterinary School and has conducted extensive research in the field of male and female ruminant fertility over the past 30 years at Universities in Australia and the UK.  An integral part of the QSML service to the Australian cattle industry is to complete research into environmental effects upon fertility and sperm quality

Dr Perry spoke on the progress of research into sperm morphology analysis within the BBSE in Australia and the importance of the standardisation of assessment of abnormalities amongst laboratories within one country.

Below are the key research areas discussed in Dr Perry’s presentations:

  • The effects of grain feeding, or a single mild acidotic event, on sperm morphology in the following months
    • A single occurrence of subclinical rumen acidosis can cause reduced sperm morphology for up to 90 days
  • The effects of protein supplementation of the first calf heifer during lactation on the development of the bull calves
    • Age at sexual maturity in the bull was reduced when a supplementation of protein pellets was provided to the lactating heifer
  • The effects of protein supplementation during pregnancy on puberty in the bull offspring (Research undertaken with Katrina Copping)
    • Protein supplementation of the first calf heifer during conception and early gestation may reduce age at puberty in the bull progeny
  • The effects of breed, season and location upon morphology in the bull
    • Research by QSML has shown that some breeds are more likely to fail the BBSE on morphology than others. Furthermore, breed influences the type of abnormalities likely to be observed. For example, Santa Gertrudis and Droughtmaster bulls may be more likely to show vacuole abnormalities of the sperm than an Angus bull.

Alongside the research, Dr Perry also delivered some interesting insights into the importance of standardisation of sperm morphology assessment:

  • The effects different equipment has on the ability to detect sperm abnormalities was highlighted:
    • Nigrosin eosin slides under bright field microscopy may lead to a reduction in the ability to observe head abnormalities compared to DIC microscopy
    • The use of phase contrast without due diligence in the required focusing on each sperm head may also lead to reduced ability to observe small head abnormalities compared to DIC microscopy

The above is a very brief overview of Dr Perry’s presentations at the two conferences. For a more detailed breakdown of Dr Perry’s presentation, please download her AVA Proceedings document here: 

Alternatively, two of the research documents mentioned can be downloaded via these links for those interested in more in-depth information:

Dr Perry is readily available to clients of QSML for consultation on individual cases.

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