News

Thompson Lab Triumphs



13 December 2013

Three student prizes were up for grabs…and two were won by PhD students from the Thompson lab! Melanie Laird and Francesca van den Berg won first and third prizes, respectively, at the recent Australian and New Zealand Society for Comparative Physiology and Biochemistry meeting.

Melanie Laird won first prize for her presentation entitled Uterine epithelial cell changes during pregnancy in a marsupial (Sminthopsis crassicaudata). "I presented my Honours work on the changes to the uterus required for pregnancy in the fat-tailed dunnart (Sminthopsis crassicaudata)," said Melanie. "More broadly, my presentation was about how studying marsupial pregnancy can help us understand the evolution of live birth within the amniotes*."

Marsupials give birth to live young, but unlike other mammals, the under-developed young then spend a period of time in their mother's pouch. "This is the first time the uterine changes involved in implantation have been studied in a marsupial," said Melanie. Many cellular changes within the uterus need to occur for an embryo to implant, but most of these have been studied in eutherian mammals (e.g. mice and humans). Nutrient transfer, tolerance of foreign cells and increased blood supply are all challenges that need to be overcome in pregnancy…and why it might just be easier to lay eggs.

"The uterine changes that occur in the fat-tailed dunnart are the same as those that occur in both eutherian mammals and squamate (scaled) reptiles," Melanie explained. "The same beginning to pregnancy appears to have evolved independently in all three groups of live-bearing amniotes."

Melanie's findings suggest that specific uterine epithelial cell changes may be fundamental and necessary for live-birth - a finding well deserving of first prize! "This was the first time I've presented my work outside of the School, so it was really great to be recognised!" Melanie said.

Also recognised for her work was Fran van den Berg, third prize winner with her talk Retreat site selection and exploitation of thermal microhabitats by juvenile spiders. This is the second prize Fran has won this year, with the first awarded at the Australian Entomological Society conference. Of Melanie and Fran's wins, Professor Mike Thompson said "I am a very happy supervisor!"

The Thompson lab, including prize winners Melanie Laird (far right) and Francesca van den Berg (far left) at the Australian and New Zealand Society for Comparative Physiology and Biochemistry meeting.
The Thompson lab, including prize winners Melanie Laird (far right) and Francesca van den Berg (far left) at the Australian and New Zealand Society for Comparative Physiology and Biochemistry meeting.

*Amniotes include mammals, birds and reptiles and refers to evolutionary adaptations to the embryos which allowed for life on dry land.