Meet Dr. Anna Denicol

Written by Dr. Angela Gonella in Celebration of National Hispanic Heritage Month

The National Hispanic Heritage Month is annually celebrated from September 15 to October 15 in the United States to recognize the contributions and influence of Latinx to the history, culture, and achievements of the United States. In celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, Diversity Committee Chair Dr. Angela Gonella sat down with UC Davis Assistant Professor Dr. Anna Denicol.

Dr. Denicol is interested in studying the precise mechanisms regulating fetal oogenesis and the development of early-stage follicles (i.e., preantral follicles). These remain largely elusive in non-rodent mammalian species. According to Dr. Denicol, the recent derivation of bovine embryonic stem cells (bESC) presents a unique opportunity to recreate bovine oogenesis in vitro, allowing the study of events that have otherwise been difficult to unravel. Her research focuses on ovarian biology and the regulation of gametogenesis and follicle development. Her lab combines a culture of bovine embryonic stem cells and of preantral follicles isolated or in situ within the ovarian cortex to encompass the different stages of oocyte and follicle development and help decipher local, systemic, and environmental mechanisms that regulate fertility.

What is your current position, and what does it entail?

Assistant Professor of Endocrinology in the Department of Animal Science of UC Davis. My position includes research and teaching at the undergraduate and graduate levels.

Can you talk a little bit about yourself, where are you from? What first attracted you to the world of science? And how did you get to be in your current position?

I am originally from Brazil, where I earned a DVM degree from the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul. Although, as a vet student and later a clinician I was constantly reading books and papers to learn how to better treat my patients, it was during my Master’s coursework at UC Davis that I learned in depth about the scientific method, experimental designs, and the power of well-conducted science to advance knowledge. I fell in love with it and decided that I had to pursue a scientific career, and that’s when I applied for a Ph.D. at the University of Florida to study pre-implantation embryonic development in the cow. I have been passionate about embryos and embryonic stem cells for many years; as I graduated with my Ph.D. and started a postdoc, I became interested in learning more about the ovary, how it develops and how it functions to ensure the development of competent oocytes. Therefore, I try to encompass these three areas in my research program.

What are you most excited to do this year?

I was most excited about a 2.5-year overdue visit to my family in Brazil, and I got to do that this Summer. We have many exciting projects going on in the lab right now, and I am anxious to see what new discoveries we are going to make.

Are there ways in which you think your heritage has affected your perspective or career trajectory?

My heritage has engrained in me the value of hard work as the only path to achieving my goals. 

What words of inspiration would you like to share with the future generation of scientists, especially those coming from diverse backgrounds?

We have made enormous progress towards creating more equal opportunities for good scientists to thrive. However, I think that we still have a long way to go if we truly wish to accomplish equality in science. My advice would be: don’t be discouraged if you see or experience inequality, but use that as a life experience to guide you to make the difference when you have the chance. Many young scientists today will be mentors tomorrow; as a mentor, do your best to create an inclusive environment based on mutual respect and focused on good, solid science.

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