UBC Reports | Vol. 48 | No. 1 | Jan.
Zoology researcher named top post-doctoral fellow in Canada
Scholar follows curiosity to promising career
by Don Wells staff writer
A famous groundhog may have put Glenn Tattersall's hometown
on the map, but it was hibernating frogs that helped propel the
young researcher to zoological prominence.
A native of the Southern Ontario town of Wiarton, made famous by
the late four-legged prognosticator Wiarton Willy, Tattersall was
recently named the inaugural winner of the Howard Alper Award, a
$20,000 prize awarded to Canada's top post-doctoral fellow by the
Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC).
The prize and an NSERC postdoctoral fellowship will allow Tattersall
to continue his research on metabolic responses to stress such as
low oxygen, high carbon dioxide, toxins or anemia, under the guidance
of Zoology Prof. Bill Milsom.
Tattersall's research focuses on the neurophysiological responses
of warm-blooded species -- rats and squirrels specifically -- that
enable them to lower their body temperature and metabolism in the
same manner as frogs do when exposed to cold, low oxygen conditions.
Tattersall hopes that by manipulating the hypothalamus, which controls
involuntary functions, including body temperature, the brain can
be tricked into thinking the body needs to cool down. The hypothalamus
will then lower the metabolism of the body in order to preserve
its energy, minimize its oxygen requirement, and lower its temperature.
Such a technique, he says, might be useful for doctors treating
neonatal asphyxia or so-called "blue babies" who have trouble breathing
"Clinical trials are currently under way to determine if cooling
the body reduces neurological damage in these infants," Tattersall
says. "If so, the next question is whether the same cooling effect
can be produced safely with drugs."
Growing up on a family farm, Tattersall fulfilled his curiosity
for all creatures great and small by trudging through the woods
and marshlands near his home observing, among other things, frogs.
In particular, he was fascinated by their ability to survive long
winters in ice-covered ponds.
That curiosity eventually led to a PhD program at Cambridge University
where he unlocked some of the mysteries surrounding the frog's ability
to lower its metabolism and thereby conserve its energy in cold,
low oxygen conditions.
"When I decided to go to university, I initially chose Environmental
Toxicology because I was afraid that a degree in Zoology wasn't
going to find me a job," says Tattersall. "I am indeed grateful
to both NSERC and also to Professor Alper for his vision and generosity
that enables me to pursue the same interests I had when I was a
Not only is Tattersall pursuing those interests, his early fears
over finding employment were apparently unfounded. Next January
he will join the Biology Dept. at Brock University as an assistant