Deep in the Jungle Something Is Happening: DNA Sequencing

This blog was written by guest blogger and 2018 Promega Social Media Intern Logan Godfrey.

Only 30 years ago, the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) was used for the first time, allowing the exponential amplification of a specific DNA segment. A small amount of DNA could now be replicated until there was enough of it to study accurately, even allowing sequencing of the amplified DNA. This was a massive breakthrough that produced immediate effects in the fields of forensics and life science research. Since these technologies were first introduced however, the molecular biology research laboratory has been the sole domain of PCR and DNA sequencing.

While an amazing revolution, application of a technology such as DNA sequencing is limited by the size and cost of DNA sequencers, which in turn restricts accessibility. However, recent breakthroughs are allowing DNA sequencing to take place in jungles, the arctic, and even space—giving science the opportunity to reach further, faster than ever before. 

Gideon Erkenswick begins extractions on fecal samples collected from wild tamarins in 2017. Location: The GreenLab, Inkaterra.

Gideon Erkenswick begins extractions on fecal samples collected from wild tamarins in 2017. Location: The GreenLab, Inkaterra. Photo credit: Field Projects International.

The newfound accessibility of DNA sequencing means a marriage between fields of science that were previously largely unacquainted. The disciplines of genomics and wildlife biology/ecology have largely progressed independently. Wildlife biology is practiced in the field through observations and macro-level assessments, and genomics, largely, has developed in a lab setting. Leading the charge in the convergence of wildlife biology and genomics is Field Projects International. 

Continue reading “Deep in the Jungle Something Is Happening: DNA Sequencing”

Get Out and Count: The Great Backyard Bird Count of 2018

2018 has been designated “The Year of the Bird”, and beginning today, Friday, February 16, 2018, bird lovers around the world will grab their binoculars, fill their bird feeders, update their eBird app, and look toward the skies. The 21st Annual Great Backyard Bird Count, one of the largest and longest running citizen science projects, begins today, and you can be part of this grand event of data collection.

All it takes is a mobile device (or computer) to log your results, an account at gbbc.birdcount.org , and 15 minutes of your time during the four-day event.

Can’t tell a red-tailed hawk from a red-winged black bird? That’s okay. The GBBC web site provides a handy online bird guide.  The web site also provides a guide for tricky bird IDs, including: Which Red Finch is it, Identifying Some Common Sparrows, and Identifying Doves.

I recently spent some time talking to Brian Schneider, one of the educators at the Aldo Leopold Nature Center in Monona, WI, to get some tips for first-time birders. Continue reading “Get Out and Count: The Great Backyard Bird Count of 2018”

From White Rhinos to Snow Leopards: Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells Offer Hope for Endangered Species

As an animal lover who has been passionate about genetic conservation approaches since I first heard about the “Cheetah papers” over twenty years ago, I am excited at the work highlighted in two papers published in the last year that have begun the process of applying induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) technologies to endangered animals (1,2). Continue reading “From White Rhinos to Snow Leopards: Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells Offer Hope for Endangered Species”

Giant Panda Genome: Answers About the Carnivore that Eats Plants

They are the cuddly, roly-poly giants that are the face of the wildlife conservation movement. Unfortunately, giant pandas have earned the honor. They are one of the most endangered species on earth. They are also something of an enigma. They are carnivores who subsist almost entirely on a diet of plants. They have opposable thumb-like appendages on their front paws. They look like a bear that wants to be a raccoon (or a raccoon that wants to be a bear?). Their unique characteristics kept scientists debating their classification for years. Did they belong with the bears (Ursidae), raccoons (Procyonidae) or did they belong in a family of their own?

Molecular studies seem to have resolved the classification debate; giant pandas (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) are most closely related to bears. Their ancestors split from the ursid lineage just before the radiation that led to modern bears, and thus have their own subfamily Ailuropodinae. But what of the other puzzling characteristics? Why on earth do they eat bamboo?

In a paper published in the January 21, 2010 issue of Nature, we begin to find answers. The authors have generated and assembled a draft sequence of the giant panda genome (Li, R. et al.;1). Continue reading “Giant Panda Genome: Answers About the Carnivore that Eats Plants”