There are several new research projects going on behind the scenes at the Joseph Moore museum. Sonia Kabra and I, Rachel Wadleigh, are working with the museum director, Heather Lerner, and will be posting once a week about what we are working on. We will be here for four weeks and we have a lot to fit in!
I just completed my first year at Earlham and I’ve already been working at the museum for two semesters. Throughout the year I have been working on the Insect Exhibit, which is now open, and during the second semester I was a Museum Host on Saturdays. This summer I’m excited to be doing research on some of the museum specimens.
The Joseph Moore Museum is well known for having the most complete giant beaver (Castoroides ohioensis) specimen in the world–it’s 7/8ths complete. Aside from this specimen on display in the museum we have bones from at least ten other giant beaver individuals in our collections. We will be attempting to extract DNA from many of these this summer. Since these specimens are many thousands of years old the extraction will be more difficult, take longer, and be more susceptible to contamination than a DNA extraction from a modern specimen.
You can see us at work in the basement of the museum in our new ancient DNA lab over the next three weeks. We just received many new supplies last week and we are taking precautions to keep it free of modern DNA that could contaminate our ancient DNA samples. After we drill out small samples from the giant beaver bones, we will perform an DNA extraction and then do Polymerase Chain Reactions (PCRs) to amplify the DNA we extract. From this work hope to be able to determine what are the closest relatives of these extinct beavers and, later, determine if there are multiple species of giant beavers.
There are many steps to this process and many things that could go wrong along the way, but I am looking forward to the experience. Right now we are working on designing primers needed for PCR. This is proving to be a challenge since we don’t really know the giant beaver’s close relatives.
This is just one of many projects we are working on, although it is the one I am most looking forward to as I’m excited to get some hands-on experience working in the lab. In later posts you’ll hear about an eagle phylogeny, the harpy eagle genome, Hawaiian honeycreepers, and even more about giant beavers.
Contributed by Rachel Wadleigh