BY AARON HARLAN
2012 CSUSM Student Research Competition Finalist
My experiences working with Dr. Tom Spady have provided me with important lessons about research that you don’t learn even in a laboratory class. In classes the end result of a lab is usually predetermined and the path to those results is clearly defined, but when doing research I had to blaze my own path and adjust to any unexpected problems or results. The opportunity to perform research as an undergraduate has provided me with the skills to pursue my career goals and was instrumental in my gaining admission to U.C. Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.
About my Research
Working in Dr. Spady’s lab, I conducted research concerning giant panda reproduction. Pandas are seasonally reproductive, meaning that they tend to give birth around the same time each year. Interestingly pandas also display seasonality in their feeding habits, at different times of the year they will consume different parts of the bamboo plant. We were looking for a link between the timing of pregnancy in pandas and the seasonal changes in what they eat.
After comparing the timing of 391 pregnancies with what the pandas were eating at the time, we found that the seasonal shifts in the panda’s diet were acting as cues for the panda’s reproductive system. So when during the year the panda gives birth depends on what part of the bamboo that the panda eats before it is pregnant.
Using this information we hope to one day be able to predict when a panda will give birth based on knowing what parts of the bamboo the panda was eating. This information would be very important to captive breeding programs, allowing them to shorten and enhance a very expensive and time consuming process called birth watch, which helps minimize stress to the panda throughout the pregnancy and avoid abortions.
Aaron Harlan is among the twelve finalists representing CSUSM at the 26th annual statewide Student Research Competition held at CSU Long Beach on May 4-5. Hear firsthand how his research is leading to new discoveries, positively impacting his education and propeling him toward his future aspirations.