Two Sewanee Faculty Members Present Research at International Crocodilian Biology Conference

In May, professors Thea Edwards and Brandon Moore traveled to Kruger National Park, South Africa to participate in the 24th Working Meeting of the Crocodile Specialist Group.

Dr. Edwards presented “Nitrate Induces a Type 1 Diabetic Profile in Alligator Hatchlings”, completed in partnership with colleagues at the Medical University of South Carolina, University of Maine, and Louisiana Tech University.  Using alligators as a model, the project investigated if early life exposure to nitrate in drinking water causes type 1 diabetes.  Using human epidemiological studies, nitrate has previously been identified as one possible cause of type 1 diabetes.  Nitrate is the second most significant global pollutant, after carbon dioxide.  Nitrate gets into drinking water mainly from fertilizers and sewage effluent released to lakes and rivers.  

Dr. Edwards and her collaborators found that several signs of type 1 diabetes were induced in alligators after 5 months of drinking water contaminated with 100 mg/L nitrate-nitrogen.  Induced signs included beta cell loss and other cell damage in the pancreas, elevated blood glucose levels, increased steroid hormone levels, high early weight gain and later weight loss.  The dose of nitrate that caused these problems was at the high end for contaminated well water in the United States.   Overall, the study supports the hypothesis that nitrate in drinking water can increase risk of developing type 1 diabetes in childhood. 

 Dr. Moore presented “Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) to Investigate Crocodylian Phallic Morphology”, collaborative research between Sewanee, The University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and Vanderbilt University applying high-resolution MRI to better understand the functional reproductive anatomy of male American alligators.  This work lays a foundation for ongoing, multi-institution collaboration with Sewanee undergraduate researchers to have a positive impact on endangered species conservation efforts and aid in increasing output in commercial exotic leather production.