Tag Archives: conservation

Fertility may be affected by a woman’s perception of her environment

Beautiful pregnant woman relaxing in the parkIs it possible that a woman’s fertility is affected by her perception of the safety of her environment? Researchers are trying to figure out how to answer this question, and you’re not going to believe which tiny animals are helping them. Roundworms!

Roundworms reproduce by themselves by carrying around their own sperm AND eggs. And it turns out that when the worm’s environment is favorable (enough nutrition, not too much competition), they reproduce better. A chemical trail from the worm’s nose to its ovaries ramps up production of prostaglandins, which help guide the sperm to the eggs.

Roundworms are a good model for this type of research, because the worm’s skin is transparent, so sperm motility is easy to observe. Now, researchers are expanding on these studies by looking at prostaglandin levels in human patients to see if they’re correlated with fertility. But the thought that smell and the perception of the environment could alter fertility is interesting, and it could possibly lead to therapies that could help humans and animals with fertility problems!

Research in these worms indicates that the production of prostaglandins might be possible in more ways than previously thought, and in addition to possibly answering some questions about fertility, roundworms might be able to give researchers insight into different targets for pain management and cancer treatments. Read more about it here:


Polar bear pregnancy test- from a beagle!

iStock_000002835475XSmallDogs giving pregnancy test results that rival over-the-counter accuracy? Yes! Keepers at the Cincinnati Zoo are working with a beagle named Elvis to determine polar bear pregnancy. Veterinarians found that ultrasound and progesterone monitoring are unreliable in determining pregnancy in these animals, so they turned to another option- and Elvis is pretty accurate!

Trained dogs are becoming more and more popular for medical applications. In addition to detecting the onset of seizures and variations in blood sugar levels, dogs have also been used to detect cancer- see an earlier post about dogs detecting ovarian cancer here: http://blog.sciencekicksass.com/ovarian-cancer-could-you-be-saved-by-a-dog/

Elvis is showing about 97% accuracy in determining pregnancy after sniffing fecal samples (pretty close to over-the-counter pregnancy tests for humans)! Earlier this year, his trainers were using samples from previously pregnant polar bears, so it will be interesting to see if Elvis’s predictions regarding this year’s potential moms are correct.

This is the first time that sniffer dogs are being used in biomedical research in wildlife species, and the applications are interesting- could sniffer dogs help researchers determine the reproductive health of other animals, both in captivity and in the wild? Read about it here:


Sea turtles and climate change: a new understanding

iStock_000007256605XSmallClimate changes definitely have an effect on loggerhead sea turtle populations- but for different reasons than researchers earlier suspected.

Earlier studies suggested that climate changes impacted hatchling survival. But new research shows that climate changes affect sea turtles in a different way. When climate changes affect turtles’ foraging areas in the year or two before their nesting years, breeding females aren’t able to reproduce successfully… thus, fewer nests.

Sea turtles can have extremely long lifespans. Unfortunately, less than .2% of hatchlings survive to breeding age. But those that do survive to breeding age (approximately 31 years) can have a successful breeding lifetime of over 25 years!

This study suggests that protecting juveniles and adults should be a higher priority than hatchlings. Not to say that protecting nests and hatchlings isn’t important, but since so few hatchlings survive, efforts should be focused on protecting the ones who do make it closer to breeding age in order to help the species more effectively.

These research studies are important because they give scientists clues as to how to channel conservation efforts. Check out this link for more information:



Resurrecting extinct species?

We’re not talking about Jurassic Park, but there are plenty of species that have recently gone extinct due to human interference. Deforestation, hunting, and human expansion have been the cause of countless species’ extinction, and many people believe that we have a moral obligation to attempt to do something about it.

Scientists have already used knowledge gained through research- including IVF, genetic testing, and novel tracking and census methods- to save species that were on the brink of extinction, including Bald Eagles, Grizzly Bears, Green Sea Turtles, Giant Pandas, the White Rhino, the Siberian Tiger… the list goes on and on.

Some researchers want to take these efforts even further. The Centre for Research and Food Technology of Aragon in Spain is starting a new project to look at frozen cells of the burcado, an extinct type of ibex, to see if the cells are viable enough to potentially bring this species back. While plans are in the early stages, it’s exciting to think that we could potentially ‘resurrect’ species that have recently gone extinct due to human actions. The Tasmanian tiger, Western Black Rhino, Javan Tiger, Japanese Sea Lion- what would you bring back if you could? What do you think about bringing extinct animals back?