Baker Institute for Animal Health
235 Hungerford Hill Road
Ithaca, NY 14853
Phone: (607) 256-5613
Fax: (607) 256-5608 email@example.com
Dr. Alex Travis’s lab explores a diverse set of subjects, ranging from technologies based on the very smallest biological machines to inquiries in wildlife conservation and sustainability at the landscape scale. Much of Dr. Travis’s work stems from his studies of reproduction and the function and preservation of sperm. His lab announced the birth of the world's first litter of puppies born by in vitro fertilization in December, 2015.
In one recent success in assisted reproduction, the Travis lab was the first group in the Western Hemisphere to successfully perform embryo transfer using a frozen dog embryo. They also claim the title of first to successfully perform spermatogonial stem cell transplantation in a dog, a procedure in which the sperm-making stem cells from the testes of one dog are transferred into another dog. After the procedure, the recipient dog is capable of creating sperm that carry the donor dog’s genetic material. By trying new techniques for assisting reproduction in dogs, Dr. Travis and his colleagues expect to learn more about how these approaches might be used to aid reproduction in humans and in non-domesticated species that are closer to extinction, including rare wolf species.
In other work related to reproduction, the Travis lab is exploring the interactions between the various components of the outer membrane of sperm that enable them to carry out their one objective: fusing with an egg cell and creating an embryo. One component, the ganglioside GM1, is under particular scrutiny. They have demonstrated that GM1 regulates a channel that allows calcium into the sperm, a critical first step that enables a sperm to fertilize an egg. Dr. Travis is applying these findings in a new assay, now in human clinical trials, that analyzes the distribution of GM1 in the sperm membrane as a way of diagnosing male fertility.
Sperm are interesting because of their role in reproduction, but the Travis lab is also putting components of the long sperm tail to work for different purposes. Building on their past studies of sperm’s energy-making enzymes, Dr. Travis and his colleagues are working to mimic the way these enzymes are organized in the tail, called a “flagellum”, to create enzyme machines powered by sugar. These tiny powerhouses could eventually be integrated into implanted hybrid biological/mechanical medical devices, where they would run on the sugars available in a patient's bloodstream. Although those applications sound like science fiction, there are also more immediate uses for these tethered enzymes. For example, the Travis lab is exploring how enzymes attached to nanoparticles could be used as the basis for hand-held devices that could diagnose strokes or traumatic brain injuries within just a few minutes.
Dr. Travis’s interest in biology extends beyond cell and molecular studies into wildlife and landscape-scale approaches to conservation, work that calls on his veterinary training. As the Faculty Director for the Environment at Cornell's Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future and the Director of the Cornell Center for Wildlife Conservation, Dr. Travis collaborates with researchers from around Cornell and the world to study large-scale interventions aimed at conserving wildlife and fighting human poverty and hunger by promoting sustainable agriculture and natural resource management. In one ongoing project, Dr. Travis's lab is collaborating with the non-profit business COMACO to develop egg layer facilities in remote rural communities in Zambia that will make chicken eggs more available in an area with persistent poverty and hunger. Over 50% of the children in this area show signs of chronic malnourishment and families have historically relied on bushmeat when they did not have enough food. One of Dr. Travis's students is measuring the impacts that local egg production might have on the health and nutrition of mothers and children, while simultaneously relieving pressure on wildlife.
Links and abstracts for all of Dr. Travis’s publications can be found at PubMed.