Establishment of a Wisent ( Bison bonasus) Germplasm Bank

Animals (Basel). 2022 May 11;12(10):1239. doi: 10.3390/ani12101239.


The wisent, or European bison (Bison bonasus), belongs to the same family (Bovidae) as the American bison and domestic cattle. The wisent is the largest mammal in Europe, and is called the "Forest Emperor". The wisent is listed as "Vulnerable" on the IUCN Red List, and is protected by international law. Achievements in reproductive biotechnology have opened new possibilities for the cryoconservation of the wisent germplasm. Therefore, this research aimed to improve a strategy for the protection and preservation of the European bison through the creation of a wisent germplasm bank, based on the following procedures: isolation and in vitro maturation (IVM) of oocytes, in vitro fertilization (IVF) of matured oocytes, in vitro embryo culture (IVC), and embryo cryopreservation. Wisent ovaries were isolated from females outside the reproductive season, and eliminated from breeding for reasons other than infertility. Cumulus-oocyte complexes (COCs) were isolated from follicles greater than 2 mm in diameter and matured for 24 h and 30 h. After IVM, COCs were fertilized in vitro with wisent sperm. The obtained wisent zygotes, based on oocytes matured for 24 h and 30 h, were cultured for 216 h. Embryos at the morula and early blastocyst stages were vitrified and then warmed and transferred to interspecies recipients (Bos taurus). USG and biochemical tests were used to monitor pregnancies. This study obtained embryos in the morula and early blastocyst stages only after oocytes were fertilized and matured for 30 h. On average, per oocyte donor, 12.33 ± 0.5 COCs were isolated, and only 9.33 ± 0.61 COCs were qualified for in vitro maturation (75.68%), while 9.16 ± 0.48 COCs were matured (84.32%). On average, per donor, 5.5 ± 0.34 embryos were cleaved (59.96%) after 48 h post-fertilization (hpf), and 3.33 ± 0.21 achieved the eight-cell stage (36.52%) after 96 hpf, while 1 ± 0.21 morula and early blastocyst stages (10.71%) were achieved after 216 hpf. A total of six embryos (one morula and five early blastocysts) were obtained and vitrified; after warming, five of them were interspecies transferred to cattle (Bos taurus). On day 41 after fertilization, 3 out of 5 pregnancies were detected based on USG, P4, and PAG tests. However, no pregnancy was observed on day 86 after fertilization, indicating embryo resorption. This study shows that obtaining wisent embryos in vitro, and subsequent cryopreservation to create a wisent embryo bank, can be applied and implemented for the wisent protection program.

Keywords: European bison; embryo transfer; embryos; germplasm bank; oocytes; sperm; threatened species; wisent.

Grant support

This study was a part of the project “Complex project of European bison conservation by State Forests”, and was financed by the Forests Fund (Poland)—contract number OR.