Metabolomics for wildlife reproduction

Panda's horizontaal

The Giant Panda reproductive monitoring and related research is a true passion of Dr. Jella Wauters leading her to great journeys all over the world. She has been dedicated in optimizing the conventional reproductive monitoring in Giant Pandas as well as establishing an International collaboration on Giant Panda conservation research, leading her to a research project outline, financially supported by the Pairi Daiza Foundation and Beauval Nature.

While performing the endocrine reproductive monitoring of Hao Hao (Pairi Daiza, Belgium), Huan Huan (Zooparc de Beauval, France) and by being closely involved in the interpretation of data of Tian Tian (RZSS-Edinburgh Zoo, UK), it became obvious that the Giant Panda's reproductive cycle is not only very peculiar, but also, that related features still need to be unravelled.

Even after 40 years of research and efforts, captive breeding in the Giant Panda remains challenging. Giant Pandas have a very narrow window of fertility which isn't always easy to identify accurately. Confirmation of conception is additionally compromised by the lack of highly specific and sensitive biomarkers. Diagnosis of true pregnancy (with implantation of the embryo) is furthermore complicated by embryonal diapause with delayed implantation and the occurrence of pseudopregnancy. Additionally, foetal loss is suspected, but cannot be identified, in a substantial fraction of bred, but non-birth females.

Our laboratory's core business is 'metabolomics', a technique that can map all metabolites available in a sample, and is therefore able to profile a sample's (or animal's) condition (e.g. reproductive status, health status, nutritional status,...). The technique is - amongst others - widely explored for diagnostic purposes as well as for follow up of treatment, in many diseases. Therefore, we are currently exploring the metabolic urinary and faecal profiles in non-bred, successfully bred and non-successfully bred Giant Pandas with the aim to assist in unraveling the giant panda reproductive physiology and to develop reliable pregnancy tests for each crucial phase in giant panda embryonal/foetal development.

Current projects

  • Advanced wildlife endocrinology: non-invasive monitoring 2.0 to save species biodiversity (BOF): Tom Cools
  • Metabolomics in the Giant Panda: Unraveling the reproductive biology (Pairi Daiza foundation and Beauval Nature): Dr. Jella Wauters

This research is conducted in the framework of a close collaboration between national and international partners: China Conservation and Research Centre of the Giant Panda (CCRCGP), Pairi Daiza-Pairi Daiza foundation, RZSS-Edinburgh Zoo, Edinburgh University, Ähtäri Zoo and Ghent University.