When I heard that watching "animal porn" was one of the necessary responsibilities of working in Professor Cruz's lab, I thought twice about my choice of winter term projects. I was relieved to learn that this task simply consisted of tracking the matings of our lab opossums, so that we could date the age of the embryos we were studying to the minute of their conception. My winter term project was conducting research in the developmental biology lab on campus, and learning basic laboratory techniques, including dissection, dehydration and preparation, and staining of slides for microscopic analysis. I also learned about several current research topics in the field of developmental biology.
My research pertained to progesterone receptors in opossum uteri. Female opossums do not have a progesterone peak during the second phase, known as the luteal phase, of the estrus cycle. This may be due to more progesterone receptors in the uterine tissue, creating the same response that a peak in progesterone would initiate. Alternatively, there may be a different hormone that fulfills the role of progesterone. It is possible that this hormone is early pregnancy factor (EPF).
EPF is interesting because it is an immuno-suppressant. Logically, a mother's antigens would attack the foreign tissue of the embryo that is in her body. However, EPF prevents the immune system from attacking the embryo, allowing for her pregnancy. The same situation arises in certain autoimmune diseases, such as MS, in which an individual's immune system attacks self-cells. Expression of EPF in this situation could inhibit attack and prevent degeneration of the tissue.
I will continue my research this semester, and hope to come to a conclusion by the end of the school year. However, this will not be the end of my research experience. My professor has helped me to network with Oberlin Alumni and I have been offered an internship at a professional proteomics lab in Spain this summer. I would never have imagined that my winter term research would provide me such a great opportunity!