Research has shown environmental
contaminants affecting the American alligator, Alligator mississippiensis.
Imitating the female hormone, estrogen, these pollutants have adverse
repercussions on male alligators. This includes the reduction in the phallus
size, which is an essential for sexual reproduction, bringing us to the
topic of my research.
Started in the summer of 2007,
my research focuses on setting the baseline for normal morphology and
character in the phallus. In order to do this, phalluses from non-contaminated
alligators were extracted and embedded in wax. From there, these samples
were cross-sectioned the entire way through, being careful not to lose
any bit of the tissue. Next, the sections were stained using a standard
trichrome protocol. Finally, light microscopy was used to characterize
the pattern and layout of the internal structures of the phallus. Those
formations included glands, sinuses, and lymphatic space. To supplement
this project, specific stains were used to highlight certain compounds
thought to be present in the phallus. Once a firm understanding of the
normal morphology of the male is determined, comparisons to alligators
living in known, contaminated lakes can be made. Similarly, the cliterophallus,
the female homologue to the phallus of the male alligator can be used
for comparison. With this collection of information together, a better
look at the effect of synthetic hormones on contaminated male alligators
will be revealed.