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UBC Reports | Vol. 48 | No. 1 | Jan. 10, 2002

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 at birth.

"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 kid."

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 professor.


Last reviewed 22-Sep-2006

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