2019 AETA Scholarship Winner Report: Russell Johnson

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Published on: January 3, 2020

It was both a pleasure and an honor to be in attendance at the 2019 AETA Conference. The knowledge, introductory skills, and contacts made are irreplaceable. I am currently seeking a PhD in Reproductive Physiology at Tuskegee University College of Veterinary Medicine. My area of research is centered around in vitro fertilization in cattle. There have been several publications on the beneficial antioxidant effects of melatonin on in vitro fertilization. There is also a recent publication on the effects of exogenous melatonin on uterine arterial blood flow in late gestation. I am hoping to be able to look at the effects of exogenous melatonin on oocyte quality.

The Preconference Seminar I, ET 101, was a great practical introduction to embryo transfer. Everything from an overview of the estrus cycle to actual transferring of embryos was covered. I have the opportunity to read articles on this subject matter on a regular basis, which gives me a theoretical look at embryo transfer, but the class as well as the entire conference gave me an introduction to the understanding of its practicality. The class gave me a good idea as to what it will take to accomplish my research goals, both skill sets and finances needed, as well as what it will take to include embryo transfer services in my future veterinary practice. The student/technician session was a great way to introduce embryo handling. Prior to attending the conference, I had the opportunity to aspirate oocytes from slaughterhouse ovaries and practice handling, grading, maturing, and staining them. In a laboratory setting at school, we used a different, more difficult way of handling the oocytes than was used in the student/technician session. I had actually never observed both sides of an oocyte, nor did I know that it was even necessary. The student/technician session reinforced the importance of taking a complete look at the embryo or oocyte, not just a one-sided view. It was nice to have some of the industry’s best teaching different hands-on techniques.

The speaker sessions provided information from both a research standpoint and from the perspective of what is actually being done in the field. As I develop my research project, I believe that it is important to be able to bridge the gap between what can be done in theory, in a controlled laboratory setting, and in the field. The sessions on IVF were especially beneficial to my research. A lot goes into the birth of a calf via IVF: however important, the quality of the oocyte is only a small factor. Being able to monitor the development of IVF embryos may lead to understanding of what conditions we can manipulate both in vivo and in vitro to increase the quality of both the oocyte and the embryo, thus increasing the number of live calves being born using IVF technology. When you look at things only from your area of research, it is possible to overlook other aspects of the process that are equally important, such as the recipient. The sessions geared toward recipient management put into perspective that an embryo transfer program will be no better than its recipient management program; the two are equally important. I also learned that there is an embryo transfer market in small ruminants, including deer.

Although my area of current research is bovine oocytes, I one day would like to participate in a veterinary practice that is centered around reproductive technologies, thus giving me the opportunity to develop embryo transfer skills that would lead to an Embryo Transfer Certification. Not only did this conference began to bridge the gap between theory, laboratory setting, and the field; it placed me around a lot of people who have the same interest that I do and who are actually doing what I want to learn to do, who demonstrated the willingness to help me achieve what I would like to do, making it possible to believe that my dreams can be achieved. Lastly, I would like to say thank you for providing me with this opportunity. I look forward to attending the AETA 2020 conference, taking the Advanced ET course, and attending the student/technician session.

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