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Commercial application of embryo transfer in pig breeding is dependent on the storage of embryos. The aim of this study was to assess the embryo quality of in vitro-produced blastocysts after 3 h liquid storage at 37°C in CO2-free medium by evaluating morphology, in vitro developmental capacity and apoptosis. Blastocysts at days 5 and 6 post-fertilization were randomly allocated to the storage group (HEPES-buffered NCSU-23 medium including bovine serum albumin in a portable embryo transport incubator at 37°C) or a control group (porcine blastocyst medium in a conventional culture incubator). Thereafter, blastocysts were evaluated for morphology and stained to assess apoptosis straight after the 3 h storage period or after a further 24 h conventional incubation. There was no significant difference between the storage and control group after 3 h storage and the further 24 h conventional incubation for any of the parameters, nor for apoptosis straight after the 3 h storage. Embryos that reached the blastocyst stage at day 5 showed less apoptosis (6.6% vs 10.9%, P = 0.01) and a trend for a higher rate of developmental capacity (70.6% vs 51.5%, P = 0.089) than embryos reaching the blastocyst stage on day 6. In conclusion, in vitro-produced porcine blastocysts can be stored for 3 h at physiological temperature in transportable incubators using a CO2-independent medium without compromising quality.
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