Female gametes, or oocytes, develop during fetal life and must remain viable for a long period of time to ensure proper reproduction during a female’s lifespan. However, the precise mechanisms regulating fetal oogenesis and development of early stage follicles (i.e., preantral follicles) in the ovary remain largely elusive in most mammalian species. The recent derivation of bovine embryonic stem cells (bESC) presents a unique opportunity to recreate bovine oogenesis in vitro, allowing the study of events that have otherwise been difficult to unravel.

Our research focuses on ovarian biology and regulation of gametogenesis and follicle development. We combine culture of bovine embryonic stem cells, preantral follicles isolated or in situ within the ovarian cortex, and granulosa cells to encompass the different stages of oocyte and follicle development and help decipher local, systemic and environmental mechanisms that regulate fertility.

As heat stress is recognized as one of the main causes of infertility in cattle, an equally important focus of the Denicol Lab has been the investigation of the SLICK1 mutation of the prolactin receptor gene as a strategy to increase the tolerance of dairy cows to heat stress.

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