The management of captive avian breeding programs increasingly utilizes various artificial reproductive technologies, including in ovo sexing of embryos to adjust population sex ratios. Currently, however, no attention has been given to the loss of genetic diversity following sex-selective incubation, even with respect to individuals from critically endangered species. This project evaluated the possibility of using xenotransfer of embryonic gonadal germline stem cells (GGCs) for future reintroduction of their germplasm into the gene pool. We examined and compared the host gonad colonization of freshly isolated and 3 day (3d) cultured donor GGCs from chicken and 13 species of exotic embryos. Following 3d-culture of GGCs, there was a significant increase in the percentage of stem cell marker (SSEA-1, -3, -4) positive cells. However, the percentage of positive host gonads with chicken donor-derived cells decreased from 68% (fresh) to 22% (3d), while the percentage of exotic species donor-cells positive host gonads decreased from 61% (fresh) to 49% (3d-cultured). Donor GGCs from both chicken and exotic species were localized within the caudal endoderm, including the region encompassing the gonadal ridge by 16 hours post-injection. Furthermore, donor-derived cells isolated from stage 36 host embryos were antigenic for anti SSEA-1, VASA/DDX4 and EMA-1 antibodies, presumably indicating maintenance of stem cell identity. This study demonstrates that GGCs from multiple species can migrate to the gonadal region and maintain presumed stemness following xenotransfer into a chicken host embryo, suggesting that germline stem cell migration is highly conserved in birds.
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Vol. 31 • No. 6