EEB’s Endocrine Laboratory | Non-invasive methods for sample collection are becoming increasingly popular in behavioral ecology, and laboratories are springing up that specialize in analyzing parasites, DNA and hormones from what was once thought of only as “waste”—that is, urine and feces. In the Altmann laboratory, we are focused on extracting and analyzing steroid hormones from baboon feces. The equipment and techniques we use can be applied to a variety of other animal species. For example, one PhD student prepared samples and evaluated stress hormones in material from wild lemurs, and an undergraduate prepared wild horse samples here for analysis of progesterone elsewhere.
For analysis of steroid hormones, fecal samples are usually initially freeze-dried, sifted, and weighed. Our method of hormone preparation subsequently includes two steps: a methanol extraction followed by purification with solid-phase extraction using a C18 cartridge. The analysis of steroid hormone concentrations is done using radioimmunoassay. Our lab uses I 125 commercial kits for analyses of estrogens, progesterone, testosterone, and glucocorticoids. These kits, with their color-coded antibodies and step-by-step instructions, make radioimmunoassay techniques very accessible for students who are new to these techniques. We have had a great deal of success training students in assay methods from correct handling of radio isotopes to accuracy in pipeting. Together, the EEB communal and Altmann labs are equipped with two chemical hoods, water baths, a freeze-dryer, a centrifuge, a multi-pulse vortexer, –20˚ C and -80˚ C freezers, a gamma-counter, two balances with a precision of 1 mg, and a range of standard equipment such as pipettes, repeater pipettes, and vortexers
The laboratory group usually contains a mix of undergraduates, graduate students from both the US and Kenya, and postdoctoral researchers (that’s us). We currently offer undergraduates opportunities to get involved in our laboratory at any level from first year internships to senior theses. If you have any questions about the facilities or techniques, we would be more than happy to answer them.