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Gina Della Togna

Postdoctoral Fellow
B.S., University of Panama; M.S., University of Panama; Ph.D., University of Maryland

Gina Della Togna is a Panamanian postdoctoral research fellow at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) currently working on developing artificial reproductive techniques (ARTs) for endangered amphibian species. During her doctoral research Gina developed a set of ARTs for the critically endangered, possibly extinct in the wild, Panamanian golden frog. Her goal is to extrapolate these techniques, with the necessary species-specific modifications, to other endangered amphibians in the US and Panama for the optimization of amphibian captive breeding programs. Togna’s areas of expertise are molecular and cell biology, cryobiology and amphibian reproductive physiology.

Togna successfully developed a set of ARTs for the male Panamanian golden frogs including exogenous hormonal stimulation and sperm cryopreservation. Compared to GnRH-A alone and hCG, the highest concentrations of good quality, highly motile spermatozoa were obtained with the use of a cocktail of GnRH-A and a dopamine antagonist (Metoclopramide). Following successful sperm collection, cryopreservation was effectively accomplished with the use of N-N-Dimethylformamide and trehalose. Togna was also able to describe the morphology and physiology of Panamanian golden frog sperm cell for the first time, assessing the effects of temperature and dilution on the viability of the cells. Exposure to extracellular conditions with low osmolalities greatly decreases the viability of these cells in terms of motility, morphology and DNA integrity. Longevity of Panamanian golden frog spermatozoa is extended when the samples are kept at 4 degrees Celsius. Togna’s work has great impact, especially in the midst of the current global amphibian crisis, where captive breeding programs might be the only hope for many species to survive. This techniques can now be applied to facilitate breeding of endangered species in captivity.
Togna obtained a Master of Science in Molecular and Cell Biology at the University of Panama in 2008. She worked with Budhan Pukazhenthi and Oris Sanjur (STRI) in the collection and cryopreservation of Central American tapir spermatozoa for her thesis. The same year, Togna was awarded a full scholarship from the government of Panama to pursue her doctoral degree. Working with Pierre Comizolli for her doctoral research at the University of Maryland she worked on the functional and structural characterization of Panamanian golden frog spermatozoa.
Gina was born in Panama and lived there until she moved to the US to pursue her doctoral degree in 2008. When asked about how she ended up working on conservation, she will answer “I just always knew, since I was little; it is my calling”. She has devoted her life to educate and prepare herself to be able to make a difference for the conservation of endangered species. Right after graduating from high school she became a volunteer at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, working for several researchers during the years, while she attended college. After graduation, she enrolled in the MSc program and two weeks after graduation Gina was already sitting at a University of Maryland class room starting her Ph.D. program. She plans to take her knowledge and experience to implement the conservation tools she has developed to help in the conservation of endangered amphibians in Panama.