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Mount St. Joseph Researcher On BBC's 'A Perfect Planet'

Courtesy Clara doAmaral
One of the wood frogs featured on the BBC's 'A Perfect Planet.'

You won't see Mount St. Joseph University's Clara doAmaral on A Perfect Planet, but you will see her frozen frogs.

The assistant professor of biology's research appears in "The Sun" episode of A Perfect Planet narrated by Sir David Attenborough on the new Discovery+ streaming service. "The Sun" aired in Great Britain Jan. 10.

Credit Courtesy Clara doAmaral
Clara doAmaral, Mount St. Joseph University assistant professor of biology.

For 11 years, she has been researching North American frogs, particularly wood frogs found from the Artic environs of Alaska to "more temperate climates" in Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia. They're unusual because they can freeze solid during cold winters, when their hearts stop beating until the spring thaw. Then the wood frogs' hearts starts beating again, their blood melts and begins circulating again.

A BBC videographer shot about 100 hours of video here, including a week-long time-lapse sequence in doAmaral's Mount St. Joseph lab as they were frozen and thawed. A Perfect Planet producers condensed her segment into less than two minutes, she says.

"I am not on camera in the documentary, only the frogs," she says. "So viewers will only know I worked on the segment if they wait to see my name in the credits."

The crew also filmed the wood frogs in their natural habitat by the Ohio River in Melbourne, Ky., at Northern Kentucky University's Research and Education Field Station.

The native of Lisbon, Portugal, earned her bachelor's degree in biology from the University of Lisbon; a master's degree in biology from Western Kentucky University; and her doctorate in zoology from Miami University. She was hired by Mount St. Joseph University in 2017, after a University of Dayton fellowship.

"I wanted to stay in the Midwest, but wanted to be at a small liberal arts college, so Mount St. Joseph University was the perfect fit," she says.

While at Miami, she researched the tolerance of cold-blooded organisms to low temperatures with professors Jon Costanzo and Richard Lee for her doctorate degree in ecophysiological cryobiology. She also collaborated on a different BBC production with the frogs at Miami, she says. That's how they found her at the Delhi Township campus.

"Most toads hibernate by burying themselves below the frost line and most frogs retreat to deeper water when lakes or ponds freeze during the winter months.  But wood frogs are different; they spend their winters close to the surface of the ground, where their bodies actually freeze solid," she said in the press release about the BBC show from Mount St. Joseph and Strategic Advisers LLC.

From the release:

"Her study found that Alaskan wood frogs accumulate more cryoprotectants, which provide them with more protection and cause less damage when they are frozen. The study showed that while the glucose levels in both sets of frogs were relatively similar, the Alaskan frogs had significantly higher levels of urea and glycogen than the Ohio frogs.

"Dr. doAmaral said while it is probably too early to use this research for medical applications, she believes that this science may one day be used in the field of human-organ preservation and for other medical issues.

"She also said that DARPA – the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency, the U.S. military agency that invests in breakthrough technologies for national security – has expressed interest in this science as a way to help the military improve survival of soldiers in critical conditions."

John Kiesewetter, who has covered television and media for more than 35 years, has been working for Cincinnati Public Radio and WVXU-FM since 2015.