Name: Gabriela Mastromonaco
Born: Buenos Aires, Argentina
Profession: Reproductive Biotechnology
Scientists at the Toronto Zoo engage in critical research for species protection and conservation. We talk to Gabriela Mastromonaco to find out what being a Reproductive Physiologist at the Zoo is all about.
What is a Reproductive Physiologist?
Someone who studies the function of reproductive processes, that is, how reproduction works in males and females. But, in many cases, you spend most of your time finding ways to overcome dysfunctional reproductive processes.
What is a typical day like for you?
No two days are alike at the zoo! We begin each day with a quick morning meeting with the Animal Health Centre staff to review what’s been happening with the animals (births, deaths, sicknesses, etc). I check in with the Reproductive Lab staff to see if there’s anything important or urgent that needs to be dealt with. We discuss any updates on the animals we’re working on e.g., evaluating hormone levels in females to detect cycling or pregnancy (estrogen, progesterone), or in males to detect seasonality and sperm production (testosterone). If necessary, we analyse the data and send a report to the curators and animal care staff. They might be interested in breeding certain individuals and need to have the data to make the right decision. Depending on the season, I may spend quite a bit of time at my desk writing grants to obtain money for research projects or out in an animal holding collecting a sperm sample from an individual for sperm banking or training new students on in vitro fertilization techniques.
Do you specialize in a specific species?
My specialty is large cattle species, but at the zoo I work with all species (mostly mammals).
Is there a particular species that is your favourite to work with?
I enjoy working with bovines (cattle, gaur, bison, buffalo) because we know quite a bit about their reproductive biology and so we have the necessary foundation with which to attempt advanced technologies like artificial insemination and in vitro fertilization.
Did you always want to be a Reproductive Physiologist?
Yes, since my later years in high school.
What is the last movie you saw? Thumbs up or thumbs down?
Ratatouille. Thumbs up.
What advantages does the Zoo offer to your research?
The opportunity to work with a wide variety of interesting species and access to a network of zoological institutions for collaboration.
What courses in high school prepared you for this field?
Mostly biology, but chemistry, math and English are all very important.
Where did you go to university?
University of Toronto (B.Sc. and M.Sc.) and University of Guelph(Ph.D.).
How did you decide whereto go?
For each degree, I chose the university or department that provided the best program or courses in my field of interest.
What’s the best thing about Canada?
We don’t have big creepy crawly bugs like the tropical countries do.
Was there extra training required for this career after you finished university?
There wasn’t any extra training available in a course-based setting, but it took many years of hands-on and technical training to be able to do everything that I needed to do.
What’s your favorite holiday?
It’s not a holiday, but Hallowe’en is my favourite day of the year – it should be a holiday.
What is the coolest part of your job?
Working with sperm and oocytes and embryos. They are definitely the coolest cells to work with.
What’s the worst part of your job?
All the meetings and paperwork.
What’s your favourite phrase?
I don’t know yet. (In response to the morning greeting, “hi, how are you?”)
What’s the best advice your mother gave you?
It’s not all the stuff you learn in school that will determine your success, but your ability to interact with people and society.
Any advice that you would give others seeking a similar career?
In a technical or applied science, it is very important to take the right courses in university, but exposure to the laboratory is equally important. Although lab-based courses are really time-intensive and can sometimes be difficult, they are definitely the best choice when it comes to a lab science career.
What are some great web links or references for someone interesting in reading up more about this career?
Conservation and Research at the Toronto Zoo, Mammalian Conservation and Reproductive Research, Toronto Zoo, Conservation and Science, Smithsonian National Zoological Park, Reproductive Physiology, Conservation Research for Endangered Species, San Diego Zoo,