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Imagine That! -- "Fertile Ferrets"

Imagine That!
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Imagine That! -- "Fertile Ferrets"

Credit: NSF/Finger Lakes Productions International

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Sure, you've heard of fertility treatments for humans, but did you ever think they could be used for endangered animals?

Imagine That!

The protein glucose-6-phosphate isomerase, or GPI, has long been known for its role in metabolism and in spreading cancerous tumors. But not long ago, scientists discovered that, in ferrets, this same protein is needed for embryos to implant successfully in the wall of the uterus -- pregnancy's first step in mammals.

(SOUND: ferrets chattering)

For ferrets, then, GPI could also stand for "get pregnancy initiated." Researcher Janice Bahr of the University of Illinois says that likely applies to some of the ferret's relatives, as well. If so, there may be a way to use GPI to encourage pregnancies and help boost the populations of giant pandas, sea otters, and other endangered mammals.

Not just yet, though. Bahr's collaborator, Laura Clamon Schulz, says in order to do assisted reproduction, we first need to understand these animals' normal reproductive functions, and we've still got a lot to learn.

Even so, GPI research offers fertile ground for further exploration. Studies like this show the complexity and variation in the implantation process...and could have important health applications in many species, including humans.

From friendly little pets to scientific pioneers, seems furry little ferrets are...frankly, fabulous! I'm Eric Phillips.

"Imagine That!" covers projects funded by the U.S. government's National Science Foundation. Federally-sponsored research -- brought to you, by you! Learn more at

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