Senior Scientist Emeritus, Center for Species Survival
B.S., Illinois State University; M.S. and Ph.D., Michigan State University; Post-Doctoral Fellow, Baylor College of Medicine
David Wildt, leads the Center for Species Survival team that generates much of what we now know about how many wildlife species reproduce. He also manages the wildlife animal collection at the Smithsonian Conservation and Biology Institute’s 3,200 acre facility near Front Royal, Virginia. He uses basic and applied research to creating new knowledge that leads to better management and conservation of small populations, especially endangered species. While centered on reproduction, research efforts are connected to genetics, veterinary medicine, behavior, nutrition, ecology and the reintroduction of species to nature. This cross-disciplinary integration through partnerships is fundamental to Wildt’s philosophy.
Wildt has described the impact of small populations and inbreeding on sperm form and function, including on free-living cheetahs and lions. He and his team have described the biological processes related to reproductive cyclicity, sperm, egg and embryo development in carnivores, especially felids and canids. This information has been used to produce young by assisted breeding technologies. Wildt’s laboratory was the first to produce domestic cat kittens by fertilization, later applied successfully to the tiger. His team conducted the first successful transcontinental shipment of frozen sperm from a threatened species (a wild cheetah in Namibia) to produce a cub by artificial insemination in North America. Most recently, his laboratory produced kits from the critically endangered black-footed ferrets using sperm cryo-banked for 20 years. This is a milestone that increases gene diversity in the recovering population. Wildt currently focuses on increasing the speed and scale of applying animal expertise and reproductive knowledge to creating sustainable populations through multi-disciplinary/institutional partnerships. For example, his extensive studies in China that increased knowledge about giant pandas; when applied, lessons learned helped more than triple giant panda numbers in the global ex situ collection over the last 15 years. Another example is creation of the Conservation Centers for Species Survival (C2S2), large-sized breeding facilities. These facilities cooperate and share resources to reproduce animals beyond a traditional urban zoo model. Here, breeding programs for cheetahs and African antelopes are being coordinated on a large-scale in spacious pastures in natural group sizes with minimal public interference. Such partnerships, including those with private sector ranchers, increase the number of animals in insurance populations and available for scientific discovery, all while striving for self-sustainability.
Wildt has received scientific achievement awards from American Association of Zoo Veterinarians, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and Illinois State University. He has also delivered keynote lectures at prestigious conferences including the International Embryo Transfer Society, European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology, and American Society of Reproductive Medicine.
Zhou, Ran, Wildt, David E., Keefer, Carol L. and Comizzoli, Pierre. 2019. Combinations of Growth Factors Regulating LIF/STAT3, WNT, and FGF2 Pathways Sustain Pluripotency-Related Proteins in Cat Embryonic Cells. Stem Cells and Development. http://dx.doi.org/10.1089/scd.2018.0109
Fujihara, Mayako, Yamamizu, Kohei, Comizzoli, Pierre, Wildt, David E. and Songsasen, Nucharin. 2018. Retinoic acid promotes in vitro follicle activation in the cat ovary by regulating expression of matrix metalloproteinase 9. Plos One, 1-14. http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0202759
Lee, P. C., Wildt, David E. and Comizzoli, Pierre. 2018. Proteomic analysis of germinal vesicles in the domestic cat model reveals candidate nuclear proteins involved in oocyte competence acquisition. Molecular Human Reproduction, 14-26. http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/molehr/gax059