DUBAI // A new laboratory dedicated to improving camel birth rates is expected to be finished by September.
The expansion at the Camel Reproduction Centre will allow scientists to work on their new in vitro fertilisation (IVF) project.
"It'll be a lot more lab space," said Dr Lulu Skidmore, the director.
"We just do everything in the same lab now but this new lab is important to have because we've got lots more exciting work we want to do, such as using IVF."
Work began last month on the expansion, which will include a semen freezing lab where scientists will work on culture and examination.
Another area will be dedicated to washing up and sterilisation, and a smaller room will allow all samples to be stored in appropriate conditions.
The other half of the lab will be dedicated to IVF work, and will have a flow hood, manipulators and incubators for camel embryos.
It will also include a smaller ovary preparation lab and a separate area for embryo transfer and freezing.
The project is expected to improve birth rates in camels because scientists will be able to quickly discover whether an animal is pregnant or not.
"Instead of inseminating the camels all the time and wondering whether they're going to work and whether the camels will ovulate, IVF will give us results within 24 to 48 hours rather than waiting two weeks," Dr Skidmore said.
Once the camel's eggs are collected they are placed in a pot. Frozen semen is then added.
"If they fertilise, then you know you've got to stage one," Dr Skidmore said. "If they don't fertilise then you know the camel's never going to get pregnant anyway because it won't fertilise."
So far, scientists at the centre have conducted a trial test using fresh semen.
"We did an initial study this year with fresh semen because we have to get the technique working first," Dr Skidmore said. "And it worked out, but our technique will be to do it with frozen semen because that's going to tell us more.
"It's harder but, if that works, then we know we're on the way up somewhere."
Freezing animals' semen can be more useful because it helps breed camels with specific traits. Once frozen, it can be stored and transported worldwide.
"It can become a global technique to be able to use," Dr Skidmore said. "It's just a question of doing enough research to get it to work in a reliable way and it has to be something that any lab can do."
To increase the chances of that happening, the centre is hoping to add male camels to its herd by the end of the year.
"We're only limited to three at the moment that we can collect semen from," Dr Skidmore said. "But we'd love another five and we're expecting to receive them as soon as they are trained, so September or October."
The centre has been working with the Emirates Industry for Camel Milk and Products, which owns the Camelicious brand, to train male camels. Training can take between three weeks and several months.
"We're hoping they'll also be young, between three to five years old, and that they haven't been used to mating," she said. "If we can train them to collect semen, then we can use them for our studies as well."
The centre has increased the pregnancy rate in its 180 camels by 5 per cent since last year. Using fresh embryo transfers and fresh semen, the rate is now 70 per cent. In previous years, only 20 to 30 per cent of camels fell pregnant.