Hot hogs' fertility in spotlight

Pig fertility in summer focus of research


Agribusiness
Researchers are looking at ways to improve fertility in pigs during the hot summer months. Pic: Christopher Carson

Researchers are looking at ways to improve fertility in pigs during the hot summer months. Pic: Christopher Carson

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Antioxidants are being fed to pigs in the tropical north in a bid to increase fertility in the hot summer months.

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FERTILITY issues for hot hogs sweltering in tropical conditions could be reversed with antioxidants, according to new research.

Researches from James Cook University in Townsville had developed a food supplement for pigs in a bid to reduce sperm DNA damage which occurs in hot weather.

Dr Damien Paris from the Gamete and Embryology (GAME) Lab at JCU and colleagues discovered that tropical summer weather caused a 16-fold increase in DNA damage and reduces concentration of pig sperm.

"This level of sperm DNA damage is known to decrease embryo survival, farrowing (birth) rates and litter sizes in pigs," Dr Paris said.

"We wanted to develop a food supplement to mitigate the damage caused during summer to improve productivity."

Pork is the most widely eaten meat in the world, with tropical countries such as Brazil, Vietnam, Philippines and Mexico among the top 10 pork producers. However, summer infertility costs the pig industry millions of dollars each year in productivity losses.

Happy as a pig in mud. Pic: Torsten Dederichs

Happy as a pig in mud. Pic: Torsten Dederichs

To combat that, the researchers developed a custom-made multi-antioxidant supplement that restores the fertility of boars by protecting their sperm DNA from damage induced during the tropical summer.

"Antioxidants such as Vitamin C & E, zinc, selenium, are substances that inhibit oxidation and ultimately cellular and DNA damage by neutralising free radicals. Some are also known to bolster DNA synthesis and packaging in sperm," Dr Paris said.

The quality of sperm was compared to samples collected from the same boars during the previous summer without antioxidant supplementation.

PhD student Dr Santiago Pea said the antioxidants were found to halve the sperm DNA damage.

Piglets having a feed. Pic: Greg Ortega

Piglets having a feed. Pic: Greg Ortega

"We found that the antioxidants more than halved sperm DNA damage, from 16 per cent down to 7 per cent after 84 days' treatment," Dr Pea said.

"Healthier sperm should mean healthier embryos and larger litter sizes, so this diet has enormous potential for improving pig production and food security in the tropics."

The researchers are now seeking collaboration with the pig industry to conduct on-farm field trials to further test the efficacy of the antioxidant therapy on boars during periods of summer infertility.

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