Skip to main content

Scientists are using frozen embryos from Yellowstone bison to help MN's herd

It's part of the plan to grow Minnesota's bison herd to 500 animals.

The Minnesota Zoo is hoping to improve the genetic diversity of the state's bison herd.

Using a new breeding method from Colorado State University, researchers transferred embryos from valuable Yellowstone National Park bison into four bison that are part of the Minnesota Bison Conservation Herd, the Minnesota Zoo said in a news release.

The hope is these bison will give birth to healthy calves this spring, and will go on to help expand the genetic diversity of bison in Minnesota.

What makes Yellowstone bison valuable?

There used to be 30-60 million bison roaming the United States and much of Minnesota, but during the late 19th century they were hunted to near extinction.

Efforts to restore bison have been successful, but in the process their genes have gotten mixed with domestic cattle because of inbreeding. This changes the bison's genetic makeup and could alter the appearance and adaptability of the species, the Minnesota Zoo reported.

It's estimated that fewer than 1 percent of the world's American plains bison are free of cattle genes, including bison living in Yellowstone and in the Minnesota Bison Conservation Herd.

Bison free of cattle genes are wanted to preserve the bison population in North America, and because Yellowstone bison genetics aren't well represented in Minnesota, their genes are "extremely desirable" for increasing the herd's genetic diversity, the zoo says.

So about this new research?

You can't just introduce a Yellowstone bison to a Minnesota bison, have them mate, and end up with genetically diverse babies.

In fact, the zoo says obtaining a sexually mature bull to breed naturally "has been impossible." That's because there's a transfer moratorium for Yellowstone bison due to the contagious disease many of them carry, which causes spontaneous abortions in pregnant females.

"The Yellowstone genetic is considered the Holy Grail of genetics because the animals cannot be removed from the park because of disease. It's hard to get them in a natural way," DNR Regional Resource Specialist Molly Tranel Nelson told KEYC.

So, researchers at Colorado State University came up with another way to increase the genetic diversity of bison herds. They used in-vitro fertilization to create an embryo made by bison in Yellowstone, treat the embryo to prevent the disease from being transmitted, and freeze them.

Those frozen embryos can then be implanted into other bison elsewhere.

That's what they did for the bison in Minnesota, and in the coming months veterinarians will do an ultrasound to confirm the animals became pregnant.

Dr. Jennifer Barfield, of Colorado State University, said she was "very pleased with how smoothly the embryo transfers went."

She added:

“While a new calf with valuable Yellowstone genetics would help augment the genetics of the Minnesota herd, it will also demonstrate that we can use reproductive technologies to move the Yellowstone genetics outside of the park without the threat of spreading the disease brucellosis, which has implications for bison conservation on a broader scale.”

Minnesota Bison Conservation Herd

The Minnesota Zoo and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources have been working together since 2012 to preserve the American plains bison in Minnesota.

Bison are living at the Minnesota Zoo, and some that have tested free of cattle genes have been introduced to two Minnesota State Parks. There are currently about 90 living at Blue Mounds State Park, and 11 bison were released at Minneopa State Park last fall.

The zoo and DNR hope to increase the Minnesota Bison Conservation Herd to 500 animals.

Next Up

holy angels high school j nelson

Update: Holy Angels evacuated over bomb threat, school says

Someone left a voicemail early Tuesday suggesting there was an explosive device.

radio station, microphone

Convicted stalker charged with harassment of another DJ at The Current

He pleaded guilty to similar charges involving the DJ's colleague back in 2015.

Mall of America exterior Tyler Vigen Wikimedia COmmons

10 new shops, food stops at Mall of America

Donuts, K-fashion, model cars — the new tenants cover a lot of bases.

Gophers basketball

Gophers fall below roster minimum, postpone Penn State game

It is "due to internal COVID-19 protocols within the Golden Gopher program."

Raheem Morris

Report: Vikings request interview with Rams' Raheem Morris

Morris was once the youngest head coach in the NFL at 33 years old.

train crossing S Boardman Ave, New York Mills, Minnesota - August 2013 crop GSV

Sheriff: Drunk driver crashed trying to 'beat the train'

The BNSF train slammed into the side of the driver's car.

ambulance

Man run over after parking dispute leads to road rage crash

The two groups fought about parking prior to the crash.

hwy 41 engler boulevard crash crop

Deadly crash shuts down small stretch of Chaska highway for hours

A driver crossed over the center median and hit another vehicle.

covid test 6

You can now order 4 free at-home COVID tests from the government

Tests will ship for free within 7-12 days, according to the White House.

covid-19

Minnesota's COVID-19 update for Tuesday, January 18

Minnesota has reached 11,000 COVID-19 deaths.

1114_LA-116

Vikings must continue building out receiving corps in 2022

Justin Jefferson headlines a young, promising group, but more depth is still needed

Related

11 'rare' bison released into state park in effort to build up the animal's numbers

A wild bison hasn't been observed in Minnesota since 1880, when one was spotted in Norman Count

DNR and Minnesota Zoo team up to manage bison herd

The Minnesota Zoo and the Department of Natural Resources will cooperatively manage a herd of bison at state parks and a zoo exhibit. The herd will be genetically pure, unlike most modern-day bison which have domestic cattle in their family tree.

Go check out the 'genetically rare' bison right here in Minnesota

It's National Bison Day on Nov. 4, and 2 state parks have some special herds.

Have an extra dog house? This MN police chief could use it

The police chief is housing dogs found after hours.