VSU Receives NIH Grant to Study Reproductive Development

October 24, 2009

VSU Receives NIH Grant to Study Reproductive Development

VALDOSTA -- Valdosta State University has received a $198,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to fund research about the genetic mechanisms that controls the formation of the vertebrate reproductive system.

The two-year grant titled “Mechanisms of Ovotestis Development” will determine whether there are genetic mechanisms controlling the formation of a mixed gonad structure referred to as an ovotestis (having both a testis and ovary).

The research uses the fish species Kryptolebias marmoratus (Kmar) -- commonly referred to as the mangrove killifish -- a unique self-fertilizing hermaphroditic fish that possesses the ovotestis form of reproduction.

The genetic data generated in this study will help clarify systems governing the development of the vertebrate gonad primordial, which is directly applicable to understanding reproductive biology.

“Our knowledge of how genetics determines sex through the production of reproductive organs (gonads) is not complete,” said Dr. Brian C. Ring, assistant professor of molecular genetics and developmental biology. “It is estimated that 1 percent of the human population has some form of intersex condition.”

Ring said the goal of this project is to perform a genetic screen in Kmar to determine how genes are involved in ovotestis development.

“The hypothesis is that mutants derived from this screen will be sterile by disrupting ovary or testis formation within the mixed ovotestis environment,” Ring said. “By comparison of mutants to wild-type individuals, a default mechanism is hypothesized that is applicable to understanding the predominant bipotential of gonad organogenesis in vertebrates.”

The information and data gathered in the research will be applicable in understanding the development of human gonad primordium.

Ring, who earned a doctorate in molecular genetics from Florida State University, said the outcome of the project will help researchers learn more about the genetics of this condition in the Kmar species, which then can be applied to gaps in the knowledge of human reproduction.

“The NIH grant will allow us to learn more about the genetic mechanism that control the formation of the vertebrate reproductive system,” Ring said.

Students will assist with the research on many levels. During the initial phase, undergraduate students will focus on preparing the fish for the genetic screen and maintaining the colonies during development. The second year will involve more complex scientific tasks, including intense screening of the second and third generations and histological examination of the mutant fish that have reproductive defects.

“Student involvement in this research is critical for several reasons. A project like this requires many dedicated researchers and allows the students to gain valuable scientific skills, knowledge and abilities,” Ring said. “The knowledge gained through this research continuously builds upon what previous students achieved, creating a perpetual for inquiry based learning by all.”

Ring credits prior financial and administrative support he received from Valdosta State University in securing the NIH grant.

“VSU has been very supportive at many administrative levels in providing the support needed for me to generate preliminary data critical in writing the NIH proposal,” Ring said.

This award is provided through the American Recovery & Relief Act of 2009 and is the only ARRA funds awarded to Georgia’s 1st Congressional District. For more information about the ARRA, go to http://report.nih.gov/recovery/index.aspx

Disclaimer/Acknowledgment: The Mechanisms of Ovotestis Development is supported by award number R15HD060017 from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development or the National Institutes of Health.