In January, Ubiquitome announced the finalists of the Freedom For You grants program. The program was designed to provide support for remote qPCR projects, with each winner receiving a Freedom4 device. The ten selected finalists are receiving support from Ubiquitome in the form of Freedom4 qPCR reagents and consumables, project design consultation, and technical support, including wet lab processing. Three grant winners will receive a Freedom4 gold standard qPCR mobile device worth USD$25,000.
Cawthron Institute senior scientist Jonathan Banks is one of the selected finalists for his research on the Adélie penguin in Antarctica.
Jonathan wants to study the mating behaviour of Adélie penguin populations around the Ross Sea in Antarctica. With a PhD in evolutionary biology, Jonathan has been working in the fields of microbial source tracking and freshwater ecology for many years with a significant volume of his research concerned with penguins.
For this behavioural study, Jonathan must genetically identify penguins by painlessly removing a small feather from individual birds. Traditionally, genetic identification would be done in a lab with a reliable power supply, something not available at the remote field sites he wants to work at in Antarctica. A mobile molecular device will enable Adélie penguins to be identified at the penguin colonies allowing behavioural observations to be focussed on particular penguins – especially important when there are over 200 000 penguins in a colony. Results from this work will show if Adélie penguins prefer to mate with a bird from their own or from a different genetic group. Understanding the breeding behaviour of Adélie penguins is important for understanding population trends, and the effect of human activities such as fishing in the Ross Sea.
Adélie penguins were first described in 1840 and exist exclusively across a range of different territories in Antarctica with the largest proportion populating the Ross Sea. It is estimated that 10 million birds exist in Antarctica with seasonal numbers fluctuating in different areas. Studies of these birds are relatively new as most work has only been conducted in the past 50 years or so.
Dr Banks has many published papers spanning the past 6 years mainly focused on molecular diagnostics of a range of different marine species and more recently penguins. His latest publication looks at the blue penguins based in Oamaru, New Zealand. This is a similar behavioural study to that which he hopes to conduct on Adélie penguins in Antarctica.
Clark, J. A., Banks, J. C., Waas, J. R. (2013) Economical genotyping of little blue penguin (Eudyptula minor) clades from feather-based DNA. New Zealand Journal of Ecology 37:146-150
His research is now heading towards mobile molecular testing to increase the efficiency and success of his behavioural research. Having the ability to test the penguin samples at the Ross Sea rather than transporting samples back to New Zealand for analysis, would ensure that both the penguin and its mate can be tested while Dr Banks is still able to make sound, reliable behavioural observations. Having the ability to conduct genetic tests in the field is also extremely useful for other work carried out by the Cawthron Institute. For example, being able to test shellfish in the field for the presence of human disease-causing bacteria and algae will make seafood safer for people to eat.
For more information on Jonathan’s research click here or to view a full list of the finalists visit our website www.ubiquitomebio.com.