A project of the National Institute of Agricultural Innovation (INIA) utilizes in vitro and cryopreservation techniques to increase the alpaca population, enhance their resistance to low temperatures, and improve the quality of their fiber, which is highly demanded worldwide.
The project is funded by Cienciactiva, an initiative launched by the National Council for Science, Technology and Technological Innovation (Concytec), which stressed the proposal’s scientific scope.
The funding for this innovative project amounts to S/396,220 (about US$117,922). The alpaca wool is considered to be one of the finest in the world.
Peru keeps making progress on this competitive alpaca fiber export market. A total of 1,292 tons million were exported only in Jan-Apr 2015 worth US$21.51, up by US$3 million from the same period in 2014, according to Agriculture Ministry Sierra Exportadora Program.
The alpaca population in Peru is estimated to be 3,685,500, and their fiber is exported mainly to Asian and European countries. This makes it a key source of income and financial support of many Andean inhabitants in the Peruvian Andean area, with more than 150,000 families benefiting from this activity.
In July 2015 around 170,000 alpacas died because of the very cold weather in the Andes, resulting in a huge social and economic impact. However, science can prevent this to occur again.
“Is it possible to improve the genetics of alpacas to make them more resistant to the cold weather and illnesses? Or maybe improve the quality of their fiber? —Yes, indeed, and the first step to do so is to develop a system to produce alpaca embryos at a lab.
This the first time a group of scientists work on this technique in Peru. Their goal is to make the alpaca fiber diameter thinner to improve its quality and, therefore, increase its price in the international market.
According to Peruvian scientist William Vivanco Mackie, improving the productivity and adaptability of these animals requires to identify and select the best specimens, so that their genes are spread to have the chosen ones reproduce intensively.
This technique is known as the embryo transfer, through which selected embryos will be transferred or inserted into alpacas. This way a greater number of offspring will be achieved.
There are two ways to implement this technique. One lies in stimulating the natural development of a superior alpaca —genetically speaking— and transferring —during the embryo stage— those embryos to receptive alpacas of less quality, acting as natural incubators. This process is called the in vivo method.
The other way is known as in vitro, which is conducted using oocytes that have been isolated from their biological surroundings inside superior alpacas. The fertilization process is conducted in a lab. This technique can result into three times the number of offspring per donor alpaca compared to the in vivo technique.
Scientists also seek to develop a cryopreservation system that allows embryo survival and birth of the offspring carrying improved genes
The cryopreservation allows them to freeze and vitrify embryos at sub-zero temperatures.
Thanks to this technique, embryos from different genetic lines can be stored for a future use.