In Brief

Rare horse ‘saved from extinction’ as scientists welcome birth of foal with pre-selected sex

Landmark arrival offers hope that ‘sexed semen’ could halt decline of other uncommon breeds

One of Britain’s rarest horse breeds is being pulled back from the brink of extinction after scientists successfully bred a foal of pre-determined sex. 

The “milestone” birth of the Suffolk Punch filly is “believed to be the first time a horse has been born in the UK after its sex was chosen by scientists”, The Telegraph reports.

The unusual breed has long been associated with Britain’s agricultural industry, but the industrialisation of farming has seen Suffolk Punch numbers dwindle. Today, only 72 remain in the UK, with fewer than 300 worldwide - “meaning every filly born is vital to their survival”, says the Daily Mail.

As breeders battle to save the rare horse, 19 colts and 15 fillies were born in Britain last year, but “more mares are desperately needed to widen the breeding pool”, The Telegraph adds.

The unique birth was a result of “insemination using equine-breeding technology” provided by Shropshire-based lab and stud farm Stallion AI Services, which teamed up with other breeders, scientists and academics for the project.

“In a first for rare breeds, ‘female’ sperm cells were selected, giving a 96% chance of a filly foal,” according to Horse & Hound.

The selected mare became pregnant after the second imsemination attempt, and gave birth to her world-first offspring last Thursday. “The foal, which is yet to be named, and mum, Euston Ruby, are both doing well,” says The Telegraph. 

Stallion AI founder Tullis Matson said that shifting the gender balance of Suffolk Punch foals by just 10% per year could make a “huge difference” to the breed, which is on the “border of extinction”.

“What this technology can do for all rare breeds is outstanding,” Matson added. “Hopefully, this may be a way to stop these breeds from disappearing.”

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