What attracts someone to the field of reproductive biology? Personal interest, opportunities to create societal change, and the amazing chance to study the mysteries surrounding the creation of life. Also, money. Specifically, grant money.
Funding in reproductive biology ebbs and flows with governmental interest in the field. Reproductive biologists, especially small animal reproductive biologists, often hail from regions of the world with a particular societal interest in reproduction, often arising from problems associated with either increasing or decreasing animal populations. As such, a disproportionate number of non-human reproductive biologists often come from island states that are concerned with growing invasive species populations and protecting native species.
Australia and New Zealand have produced some of the top minds in this field by funding reproductive research initially aimed at halting the population growth of invasive South American cane toads. Thanks to the Japanese cartoon Raccoon Rascal, which popularized raccoons as pets, Japan endured massive raccoon imports quickly followed by massive raccoon release into the forests as pet owners quickly realized raccoons are actually wild animals and did not behave as portrayed in the cartoon. Japan now has a raccoon epidemic and is funding quite a bit of research into reproduction in this small animal.
The Found Animals Foundation, specifically the Michelson Prize and Grants program, steps into this funding arena from a companion animal standpoint. Our group is attempting to identify and commercialize a single-dose nonsurgical sterilization approach that will work in both male and female cats and dogs. Our ultimate goal is to decrease the number of healthy, adoptable animals that are euthanized in shelters every year by providing animal shelters and pet owners a more cost effective and less invasive alternative to surgical spay/neuter.
During the last week of July, my colleague Becky and I attended the 46th Annual Meeting of the Society for the Study of Reproduction (SSR) in Montreal. Currently Quebec, the Canadian province in which Montreal is located, has a declining population growth rate. Rather than dilute the strong French identity in this province with immigration, Francophones are increasing fertility and reproductive research in an attempt to identify the cause of this slowing growth.
A major focus presented at the SSR conference related to reproductive toxins in the environment. The slowing population growth in Quebec is accompanied by a decrease in the age of puberty onset and an increase in the number of infertile couples in the region. Reproductive toxins are being blamed. Things such as BPA in the plastics we handle every day and organohalides found in pesticides have been shown to decrease fertility in rodent models and are thought to contribute to the increasing infertility in humans. As of yet, the mechanisms behind the action of these molecules are unclear, but a tremendous amount of research funding is pouring into the field. Reproductive apocalypse aside, the research presented at this conference was amazing.
We focused on mechanisms that could provide potential sterilization targets and chemical mechanism through which to propagate this sterility with no undue side effects. Researchers on the whole were incredibly interested in our program. The MPG team does quite a bit of travel presenting our program to the world’s top minds at national and international conferences, and the SSR conference is perhaps our most applicable and receptive audience. In fact, three of our grantees were in attendance!
Although the conference took up most of our time, we did have the chance to enjoy some Montreal eateries. My colleague at the conference had studied French since childhood and spoke at a near native level. I, on the other hand, did not. My knowledge of French language and French cuisine is mostly derived from dialogue in the Tarantino film Pulp Fiction, “You know what they call a Quarter Pounder with Cheese in France?” Needless to say, I was quite impressed with the French-Canadian fresh food movement and I thoroughly enjoyed a healthy diet of crepes. I also learned that Montreal was named after Mont Royal (Mount Royale with Cheese?) visible from our hotel.
Thanks for reading, and please look for more posts from the Michelson Prize & Grants team!