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Distinguished biotechnologist returns to Victoria

5 December 2005 MEDIA RELEASE

Distinguished biotechnologist returns to Victoria

The man who led a paradigm shift in understanding the role each egg plays in the fertility of mammals—internationally distinguished scientist Dr Kenneth McNatty, science leader of AgResearch’s reproductive biology programme—is to return to his alma mater, Victoria University of Wellington.

“Dr McNatty’s appointment as Professor of Biotechnology secures Victoria’s reputation as a centre of excellence in biotechnology,” said Professor Charles Daugherty, Head of the School of Biological Sciences.

“He is widely regarded as a world leader in mammalian reproduction and it is very exciting for staff and students to be able to have this knowledge applied within a conservation biology framework. Dr McNatty’s considerable expertise in the agricultural context can now be applied to the exploration of conservation issues such as biological control of invasive mammalian pests such as possums. His speciality in ovarian function provides opportunities to further biomedical research through our strategic partnership with the Malaghan Institute of Medical Research, also located on our Kelburn Campus.”

Professor Daugherty said it was pleasing to see the already strong links with AgResearch strengthened. “We enjoy an excellent relationship with AgResearch, most recently through our Proteomics research programme. Dr McNatty’s long association with AgResearch will enable those links to be furthered substantially, to the overall benefit of international research in the biological sciences.”

AgResearch General Manager (Applied Biotechnologies), Dr Jimmy Suttie, said it was a fantastic opportunity for Dr McNatty.

“AgResearch wishes Dr McNatty well in his new position. He will make a fine contribution to emerging scientists, and will continue his research in new directions.”

Dr McNatty has worked as part of a team that has identified mutations in two growth factors derived from eggs, as well as a growth factor receptor present both in eggs and their adjacent support cells. “These studies have provided further support for the hypothesis that the egg actively contributes to creating a unique hormonal microenvironment within each follicle,” said Dr McNatty. “Through this activity the egg itself plays an important role in the fertility outcome at least in some species.”

He says that there is now evidence for interactive effects of genetics, nutrition and the environment on egg quality, and an awareness of symbiotic relationships between nutritional composition of plants and the fertility and health of several vertebrates. These biological processes are largely unknown and represent a new frontier of scientific discovery.

“In my new position at Victoria University I look forward to being involved with students and academic staff in determining how the egg processes environmental and nutritional signals to influence fertility outcomes in New Zealand vertebrate species.”

Dr McNatty graduated BSc in 1966 and MSc with First Class Honours in Chemistry in 1967 from Victoria University of Wellington. In 1993 he was also conferred with a DSc. He describes his new appointment as “a homecoming” to an institution that has also played a role in the life of three of his four children.

His PhD study in reproductive biology was completed at the University of Edinburgh, UK, with Professor Roger Short, focusing on steroid production by human ovaries. Postdoctoral studies on human reproduction and ovarian function were undertaken at Harvard Medical School, US, with the late Professor Ken Ryan. In 1980 Dr McNatty was awarded the Boerhaave Professorship at the University of Leiden, The Netherlands, where he worked with Professor Steve Hillier on ovarian follicular function.

“I have been privileged to work with some outstanding people in New Zealand and from around the world,” said Dr McNatty.

“My career highlights have resulted from being part of some superb research teams in Edinburgh, Harvard and AgResearch. Collectively these highlights have led to a paradigm shift in our understanding of how the processes of egg production (the release of oocyte for fertilisation) and thus the fecundity of mammals are regulated. Surprisingly, it turns out that the eggs themselves have a major role in this outcome.”

In shaping the way he thinks about science and his research, Dr McNatty acknowledged the role of: Drs Wally TePunga and Paul Atkinson (formerly Directors of the AgResearch Wallaceville Animal Research Centre); Dr Hannah Peters (formerly at the Finsen Institute, Copenhagen) with whom he wrote a textbook on the ovary; Professor David Baird University of Edinburgh; the late Dr Griff Ross (former Clinical Director and Assistant Chief of Reproduction Research at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, Bethesda); and Ms Norma Hudson and other technical and scientific staff in his research group at the AgResearch Wallaceville, Invermay and Otago University centres.

A Fellow of the Royal Society since 1992, Dr McNatty has won many awards including a Harkness Fellowship in 1977, is an invited speaker at many leading edge international conferences, and a member of several national and international scientific committees, review panels and editorial boards.

Widely known as “the father of Androvax’, an AgVax product that increases fertility in breeding ewes, in 2004 he received the Society for Reproduction and Fertility’s Distinguished Scientist Lecturer Award.

Since 1992, Dr McNatty has been responsible for securing and managing Public Good Research Funding for up to 37 people.

He has contributed substantially to the dissemination of knowledge through publication of 221 peer-reviewed articles, book chapters or textbooks.

Dr McNatty will take up his professorship prior to the commencement of 2006 Trimester 1.


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