The Nouzilly Phenotyping Station, a tool at the cutting edge of research
The aim of the Allice research station, built from scratch in Nouzilly in the heart of Indre-et-Loire, is to understand the complex reproduction mechanisms in cattle. This modern, functional station is a major tool in the development of necessary research programmes, which will contribute to the competitiveness of the French genetics sector.
See the video presentation of the phenotyping station
The arrival of genomics has rewritten the rule-book and opened up a prodigious research field in functional genomics and epigenetics. The station’s researchers and technicians conduct projects aimed at identifying new genes linked to characteristics of interest and understanding the interactions between the genetic potential of an individual and its environment.
The Allice research team also strives to improve current reproduction biotechnologies in order to optimise the management of breeding schemes and maximise genetic progress in complete safety. In this context the establishment of the station within the heart of the INRA Val de Loire centre, between two research units working on Reproduction Physiology and Behaviour and on Infectious Diseases and Public Health, has been a strategic element.
This communal investment has also enabled Allice to equip the station with modern, functional tools in order to phenotype the heifers in a controlled environment. Thus the researchers have the advantage of a sampling room and a laboratory for the production of biological samples from contrasting animal batches, presenting extreme or well-placed aptitudes on a given characteristic in different environmental conditions. The skills of the Nouzilly team (ovum pick-up, embryo collection, in vitro fertilisation, cryopreservation, micromanipulation, embryo genotyping and metabolomics, etc.) make it possible, in particular, to produce well characterised biological samples linked to reproductive function, material which will then be analysed to identify genes of interest.
The construction of the building guarantees the “forward movement” principle and the separation of flows (people, waste, biological material) in order to ensure the quality of samples and satisfy the specifications for the authorisations obtained (authorisations for the use of animals for experimental purposes, as well as for the production and transfer of embryos in cattle).
Draconian health criteria
The experimental animals must be free from all undesirable pathogens which could affect the reproductive function of the heifers and bias the experimental results. So particular care is given to health status during the recruitment of heifers. A strict analysis protocol has been put in place including the performance of analyses on farms, a period of quarantine for heifers in a building well away from experimental installations, and controls during and at the end of experimentation.
This protocol, which is sometimes limiting for animal recruitment, is a quality assurance for the work conducted at Nouzilly, and also an asset compared with other experimental organisations.
Animal environment and welfare respected
Furthermore particular care has been paid to animal welfare. The heifers therefore benefit from optimum housing conditions: large light-filled boxes, rubber mats behind the trough and in the passageways, presence of brushes, and anti-noise headgates, all found together in a building in which the skylights provide good ventilation for the animal housing.