Overdue Update

Wow, time flies when you're busy! My stint with the Smithsonian is almost up, and it has been a busy three months, and even busier last three weeks.  The most important thing to note is that intern research presentations are complete! Every intern who comes through SCBI must present to staff scientists and students their findings as well as their experience during the internship. Since I've talked a lot about the project, but not actually a lot on what I've been doing, here it is:

I've been working on a project seeking to optimize oocyte quality for in vitro embryo production in the clouded leopard (Neofelis nebulosa). This project is under the direction of Drs JoGayle Howard and Rebecca Hobbs. Clouded leopards range throughout Southeast Asia, with an approximate wild population of 10,000 individuals. The IUCN lists the species as vulnerable, but because of their elusive nature, cloudeds are difficult to study and have been rarely observed in the wild. In addition to habitat loss, very heaving poaching threatens their survival in the wild. In captivity, male aggression towards females during breeding is often fatal for females, and many of the cats in captivity have never been bred. As a result, the North American clouded leopard population is not sustainable or genetically healthy, and the project I've been working on is trying to mitigate captive reproductive issues by increasing the efficiency of assisted reproductive technologies. Unfortunately, artificial insemination is not successful in the clouded leopard, unlike other cats such as tigers and cheetahs, and this is possibly due to a variety of factors: oocyte quality, embryo quality, uterine abnormalities, sperm morphology or motility, etc. This project wants to develop an in vitro fertilization (IVF) protocol for the clouded leopard. The objective of this project, then, is to assess oocyte quality during periods of activity and inactivity in the cat. Artificial light cycles were used to mimic breeding and non-breeding seasons in the cats, and fecal samples are being used to confirm that the light cycles are suppressing/enhancing ovarian activity.  My project revolves around those fecal samples... I've been extracting steroid hormones in over 1000 samples since I've been here. This is the project in a nutshell, though there is a lot more to the gamete side that I was not involved with, and the fact that I only saw a three-month slideshow of the endeavor.

Cool photo I used from The Clouded Leopard Consortium to outline the IVF  process:

Pictures of what I've been doing:

Weighing out fecal samples for boiling extractions.... woo!


The internship has been great. The intern group has become a tight knit group and the scientists and SCBI staff are wonderful. I'll need to spend some more time highlighting other events, such as the clouded leopard lecture and auction, ZooLights and NatGeo museum exhibits, finding bird-friendly coffee, and visiting Colonial Williamsburg, but I was in the lab for ten hours today and I need a glass of wine!