MARLIN PERKINS: Welcome to Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom.
ALEX TRAVIS: My interest in wildlife conservation started at a really young age, watching Wild Kingdom shows on TV when I was about five. It was terribly upsetting to me to learn about species going extinct so I knew I wanted to do something about that. And for me, veterinary medicine and science seemed to be a great way to attack those issues.
We've recently published the first report of successful in vitro fertilization in the dog. We produced seven happy, healthy puppies and this was the first time that's ever been done.
SCOTT PELLEY: A medical breakthrough-- a new way to make puppies.
This is the CBS--
ALEX TRAVIS: In vitro fertilization is not just about making more puppies. We have millions of dogs in shelters in this country and around the world. Really, we've done this to help preserve endangered species. If you have a female red wolf, for example, in captivity and she dies, we can save the ovarian tissue and try to produce eggs from that. You need to be able to bring the sperm and the egg together to create offspring and save that species.
Dog reproduction is so different from all other mammals. It's really posed a lot of challenges. People have been trying to do in vitro fertilization in the dog for decades. We've received interest from really all around the world-- CBS News, The Today Show, BBC, Canada, Europe.
SPEAKER: Researchers at Cornell University hope--
ALEX TRAVIS: When we get out and talk about that work, it's really critical that we stress why we're doing it, that it's not just because we can do something. We have to show why. And in this case, there's really clear reasons in advancing endangered species conservation.
We're facing our sixth mass extinction on a global scale and dogs share over 350 genetic diseases, the same as people get. Having a technique like in vitro fertilization now gives us an approach to use new gene editing technologies and really see if we can prevent those diseases from happening before they even start.
But there's a whole range of ethical issues because, how far do you go in selecting traits and is this work appropriate for people? Starting with an animal like the dog where there's so much we can learn about human disease while at the same time helping solve those problems for dogs is really a great start. We can work on the techniques-- learn how to do them properly while we're having those ethical conversations about, what are the potential applications for humans?
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It was big news when the world's first IVF puppies were born at Cornell University. Microbiologist Alex Travis of the College of Veterinary Medicine and Baker Institute for Animal Health discusses how IVF puppies aren’t just cute—they’re a major step towards preserving endangered species.