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”

Just in Time for Wisconsin’s Invasive Species Month: Goats

Invasive kudzu vine
Invasive kudzu vine covering a forest

“In Georgia, the legend says
That you must close your windows
At night to keep it out of the house
The glass is tinged with green, even so
As tendrils crawl over the fields…”
—James Dickey (1)

I grew up in Georgia, where on a hot, humid summer day you could almost hear the hiss of growing vegetation, especially the Kudzu as it climbed over fence posts and encroached upon the roadside, the king of invasive species. In Florida you worry about the alligators along the roadside if you have a flat tire; in Georgia, beware the Kudzu.

Invasive species, animal and plant, are an issue in all ecosytems. Imported from distant (and not-so-distant) areas both by accident and misguided intent, invasive species are species that have escaped the checks and balances of natural competitors and predators that existed in their native habitats. This lack of predation and competition enables them to outcompete and overrun other species.

Kudzu may be one of the most recognized invasive species in the United States, but it’s probably not the worst. The zebra mussel is an aquatic animal that has invaded our waterways in Wisconsin. Oak savannahs and prairie ecosystems in the Midwest United States are threatened by many invasive plant species like garlic mustard and blister parsnip. The Wisconsin DNR lists nearly 150 restricted and/or prohibited invasive plant species in Wisconsin, including Kudzu (2). Continue reading “Just in Time for Wisconsin’s Invasive Species Month: Goats”

Summer Friday Fun Blog: A Trip to Central Africa

Falls near Ganga Research Station, Mbam & Djerem National Park, Cameroon Photo credit: Central African  Biodiversity Alliance
Falls near Ganga Research Station, Mbam & Djerem National Park, Cameroon Photo credit: Central African Biodiversity Alliance

On Friday’s this summer, Promega Connections is out for some summer fun and virtual travel. This Friday we travel, courtesy of Science 360, to Central Africa to learn a little bit about the work of the Central African Biodiversity Alliance–an international partnership of scientists, students and policy makers. These people are doing research, and instead of simply publishing scientific journals they are taking the next step reaching out to educate policy makers and citizens about their work, so that as central Africa develops, it can do so with an eye to preserving as much of its rich ecology and biodiversity as possible.

Phylo: A Crowdsourced, Beautiful Biodiversity Game

European Honey Bee card. Image credit: Phylogame.org
European Honey Bee card. Image credit: Phylogame.org

They started with one provocative thought: “Kids know more about Pokemon than they do about the plants and animals in their backyard. We’d like to do something about that.”

And then the team behind the Science Creative Quarterly released the idea to the web to see what would happen. It was 2010.

Now, just a few years later, the resulting fruit of a crowdsourced labor is Phylo: The Trading Card Game. Phylo is a frankly beautiful, “sneakily educational”, immediately compelling and truly cross-functional collaboration of the artistic, gaming, scientific, education and even intellectual property law communities all coming together to create and curate a sort of “biodiversity Pokemon.”

Okay, sounds neat, but why?

Continue reading “Phylo: A Crowdsourced, Beautiful Biodiversity Game”

Cold-War Bunkers Enlisted in the Fight Against Cold-Loving Fungus: More on the White-Nose Syndrome Story

Bunkers at Aroostook National Wildlife Refuge. photo credit: USFWS/Steve Agius
Bunkers at Aroostook National Wildlife Refuge. photo credit: USFWS/Steve Agius

A lot has happened since I first wrote about White-Nose Syndrome, the fungal disease that has devastated bat populations in North America. The disease, caused by the cold-loving fungus Geomyces destructans (now renamed Psuedogymnoascus destructans), has been identified in many more places, including most recently confirmed cases in Georgia, South Carolina, Illinois and Missouri in the United States and Prince Edward Island, Canada.

Controlling the spread of this disease is a tremendous problem, because as I indicated in a previous blog post, keeping a hardy fungus from spreading among a population of densely packed small animals in tiny, cold damp areas is not a simple task.

This problem is going to require creative solutions, and scientists at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service may have come up with a great idea that answers two questions: How do you control the spread of White-Nose Syndrome and what do you do with 43 unused Air Force bunkers? Continue reading “Cold-War Bunkers Enlisted in the Fight Against Cold-Loving Fungus: More on the White-Nose Syndrome Story”

Rob Mies: Lessons From A Real Life ‘Bat Man’

On a blustery, frigidly cold day in mid-April, a small gathering of cub scouts from one of several local packs congregated outside the Lussier Heritage Center on the southern end of Madison for the annual bat festival. They had braved the elements to see these furry creatures, perhaps for the first time in their lives, and to put aside the myth that they are little more than Transylvanian-born vampiric vermin. The cub scouts had come to hear the experts talk. And there could have been no better person for the job of getting the education process started than conservationist Rob Mies- indisputably the star of this year’s bat show.

Continue reading “Rob Mies: Lessons From A Real Life ‘Bat Man’”

“As Close to a ‘Polluting Plant’ As One Can Find”

Far Eastern vines
Run from the clay banks they are
Supposed to keep from eroding.
Up telephone poles,
Which rear, half out of leafage
As though they would shriek,
Like things smothered by their own
Green, mindless, unkillable ghosts.
In Georgia, the legend says
That you must close your windows
At night to keep it out of the house.
–from Kudzu by James Dickey

I grew up in rural Georgia, so I saw first hand how kudzu climbs up telephone poles, invades and conquers fields and strangles giant oaks. When I was in graduate school, ecology graduate students on the first floor of our building were searching madly for something, some bug, that would eat kudzu, in hopes that they might some day graduate.

So it was with great interest that I read the recently published paper by Hickman and colleagues describing in greater detail just how noxious a noxious weed Pueraria montana (kudzu) is. Continue reading ““As Close to a ‘Polluting Plant’ As One Can Find””

Mate Selection at Frog Cocktail Parties: Keep it Short, Low, Loud, and Stand Out from the Crowd (Oh, and have a colorful vocal sac, too)

This post was chosen as an Editor's Selection for ResearchBlogging.org

Hyla versicolor (Copes grey treefrog) Photo credit: LA Dawson wikipedia
Hyla versicolor (Copes grey treefrog) Photo credit: LA Dawson wikipedia

When I lived in Sioux City, IA, I had the opportunity of hanging out with a zoologist who studied the Plains Spadefoot Toad (Spea bombifrons). I would go out with her on nighttime listening surveys, and we would slowly drive the gravel farm roads in the middle of nowhere, weaving from one side to the other as we dodged hopping frogs and toads, and I would be amazed as the clamor of these calling anurans rattled my eardrums.

Just last week in Madison, as I took my lunchtime walk, I passed by a roadside wetland, and my ears filled with the calls of Chorus frogs, singing with all their one-inch might in hopes of attracting a mate. And, later that evening, as my daughter and I weeded our garden at home, I heard the crisp bell trill of two American toads carrying over the chorus frogs in the neighborhood.

Congresses of snoring Spadefoot Toads. In-your-face Copes Gray Tree Frogs. Peepers, Chorus Frogs and and Leopard Frogs. The evenings are noisy when the temperatures moderate and these frogs and toads come out to call. The din of the local roadside wetland begins to resemble the din of the local roadside bar, in more ways than one as it turns out. Continue reading “Mate Selection at Frog Cocktail Parties: Keep it Short, Low, Loud, and Stand Out from the Crowd (Oh, and have a colorful vocal sac, too)”

Yasuní: An Ecological Paradise That Exceeds All Superlatives

This post was chosen as an Editor's Selection for ResearchBlogging.org

Traveling to the rain forests on the eastern side of Ecuador from the capital Quito is an adventure to be savored.  Even on a good day the entire journey takes a few hours to complete. En route one experiences a notable shift in climate from the cool temperatures of the Andean cordillera to the humid and damp environs of the western tip of the Amazon basin. My family and I made this trip at the end of 1994. Driving in a small 4×4, we experienced the thrill of rugged terrain, road-crossing marching ants and even an unplanned skid into a maize field. Much to our relief, we arrived safely at the town of Tena close to the Amazon’s Napo River.  After driving a further 25 km to the town of Ahuano, we took a motorized canoe ride across the water to the Casa Del Suizo hotel for our planned three-night stay.

Unknown to us at the time, the Napo River flows along the northern-most reaches of the 9820 sq. km Yasuní National Park, recognized internationally as one of the most bio-diverse regions of our planet and located only 50 km further east from where we were staying (1,2). Continue reading “Yasuní: An Ecological Paradise That Exceeds All Superlatives”