Welcome to the Smithsonian

I’ve been here at SCBI about a month now.¬†Coming to work here is a pretty involved process: background check, fingerprinting, the works. This is a closed facility and the general rule is no posting information or pictures of the campus on social media, but I’ve been given permission to write under the condition that I have all of my posts approved first, so I’ll start things rolling and see how far they go.

This is actually my second time working here at SCBI. The first time was two years ago, right after my freshman year at Juniata. I was the youngest back then and I still am. Most of my co-workers are working on their Master’s degrees or PhDs. It gives me good perspective into where I want to go with my career after undergrad, but sometimes I feel a little out of my league.

My first time here I was working on improving the cryopreservation technique for Grevy’s Zebra and Przewalski’s Horse spermatozoa. Cryopreservation is when you freeze living tissue to prevent it from degrading, so that it can be thawed and used later on. The cells of each species are different, so the same freezing and thawing temperatures, freezing media, etc. won’t work the same for one species as another, so you have to tweak the protocol for each species for the cells to actually survive the freezing process. The end goal is to have a sperm bank, a kind of frozen reservoir gene pool, for as many endangered species as possible, so that when individuals die their genes aren’t lost from the population. This is particularly important for endangered species, where inbreeding can become a big problem. The first few weeks of this summer I continued work on this project, this time with Persian Onagers.

In the last few weeks I’ve joined a new project. Now I am helping to develop a method of differentiating gonocytes in neonatal testicular tissue into mature spermatozoa. It happens sometimes that animals die when they are still babies, and when it comes to endangered species this is particularly tragic because every animal that dies without breeding is another set of genes lost from an already limited gene pool. The method mentioned in the previous paragraph doesn’t work for babies because they don’t have any mature sperm to freeze. This method takes testicular tissue, keeps it in culture for several weeks with all the necessary hormones, and makes the immature germ cells¬†differentiate into mature sperm. Or at least, that’s the plan. Working towards that.

I’ll keep you updated on the goings on and all that. Thanks for reading.

 

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