The scientific program consists of three narrowly-defined axes, each of which represents a major current challenge in the field of reproductive biology. These axes are firmly rooted in the fields of agriculture, animal science, ecology, environmental science and animal biotechnology.
The livestock industry is a cornerstone of the Québec economy; the dairy sector itself represents 80,000 jobs and contributes over $5B to the GDP. A major factor limiting the profitability of this industry is reproductive inefficiency, a complex problem involving epigenetic, genetic, nutritional, microbiological, and other environmental components. The use of assisted reproductive technologies (ARTs) is central to the competitiveness of the livestock industry, but current methods for the preservation of gametes and embryos remain unsatisfactory.
The RQR network brings together investigators with unique and complementary expertise to best address these important scientific questions. We will employ genetic, cell biological, clinical, and epidemiological tools to determine the causes of infertility in livestock and to develop methods to mitigate them, including the refinement of ARTs.
The deleterious impact of anthropogenic activity on the environment is becoming better documented. The RQR has many investigators at the forefront of research in reproductive environmental toxicology. We aim to understand the effects of toxicants on reproductive processes at critical windows of development, the transfer of toxicants from the mother to the fetus, and the effects of toxicants on the development and adult function of the reproductive system and germ cells.
Elucidating these complex processes will also require information on how changes in DNA integrity and epigenetics lead to multigenerational and/or transgenerational effects, a critical new concept that was essentially born out of novel research efforts in the field of reproductive toxicology. This research also promotes the field of green chemistry, which seeks to develop compounds and synthetic processes with greater environmental sustainability (a priority issue for the Quebec populace and its legislators).
Reproductive biologists have used genome editing for over 20 years, mainly as a tool to interrogate gene function in reproductive tissues. Although these approaches have yielded many breakthroughs, conventional genome editing technologies have well-established shortcomings with regards to time, cost, precision, and efficiency, and have been largely limited to rodent models. The development of CRISPR-Cas9 technology has the potential to overcome these limitations, and its applicability to livestock species allows for new uses in fields such as food production, sustainable agriculture, and disease treatment.
In this axis, we aim to devise new strategies to study gene function, improve reproductive efficiency, and create novel animal models through precise genome modifications, reprogramming, and stem cells. This axis places Québec at the forefront of animal biotechnology, accelerating discovery in the field of reproductive biology and innovating in the broader field of animal production science