Illinois State University’s Ryan Paitz received a more than $300,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study how the stress of pregnant mothers impacts their offspring.

Paitz, a post-doctoral student working in the School of Biological Sciences, will continue his studies of what long-term effects the “stress hormone” corticosterone has on quail eggs.

Paitz and Mark Haussmann of Bucknell University will study what mechanisms quail embryos have to protect themselves against an influx of the stress hormone. “Quail embryos have been known to be able to metabolize the steroid in some doses. We’re looking at how much is too much—the point at which the eggs can no longer metabolize,” said Paitz.

“Eggs exposed to too much corticosterone—which is known as cortisol in humans—can cause developmental effects that follow offspring throughout their lives,” said Paitz, noting in humans, an overabundance of the steroid has been linked to diabetes, hypertension, and behavioral difficulties.

This is the second NIH grant Paitz has helped secure. A 2010 graduate with his Ph.D. in biology, Paitz was awarded a $425,000 grant with Rachel Bowden to study the chemical bisphenol A (BPA) and its effects on turtles.

Paitz said understanding the capacity embryos have for absorbing the stress hormone without sustaining long-term damage could offer insights down the road into the same capacity for human fetuses. “We want to understand the pathways offspring use to protect themselves before they are born,” he said.

To reach Paitz, contact Media Relations at or call (309) 438-5631.