Condors in a Tube

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Zoo InternQuest is a career exploration program for high school students. For more information see the Zoo InternQuest blogs. For more photos see the Zoo InternQuest Photo Journal.

“The Beckman Center for Conservation Research is a state-of-the-art facility.” My eyes widen. “We have the world’s largest Frozen Zoo®.” A muffled, “Oh my gosh,” escapes from between my lips. “Today, you’re going to be working with California condor DNA.” I am left scooping my jaw off of the cold laboratory floor. Our time at the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Center for Conservation Research adjacent to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park was spent learning how to handle and denature California condor DNA in an actual laboratory. Our guide? None other than the brilliant and bubbly Maggie Reinbold. Conservation Program Manager at the San Diego Institute for Conservation Research, Reinbold boasts an education from San Diego State University. A true Aztec, she attended the university both as an undergraduate majoring in zoology and as a graduate student majoring in evolutionary biology. Reinbold did her graduate fieldwork in Baja California, where she dedicated her mind to aid aquatic insect conservation. Since then, Reinbold has proven to be as adventurous as she is witty, spending two summers in the Middle East as well as working in arctic Alaska, Madagascar, and the Caribbean.

She came to the San Diego Zoo in 2005 as a member of the genetics division, where she used Polymerase Chain Reaction, or PCR—the process of amplifying pieces of DNA to better study the encoded genetic information—to help with research questions involving endangered primates and rock iguanas. In the case of California condors, the birds have no physical distinctions to differentiate the males and females of their species, so the process of PCR is a vital part of continuing the effort to recover California condor populations. Ms. Reinbold’s knack for spreading her passion and knowledge of biology led her to her current position as Conservation Program Manager. A typical day in the life of Maggie Reinbold consists of educating others about conservation research. From kindergarteners to graduate students, she works with them all, exposing them to the various types of research going on at the Beckman Center.

Reinbold’s education and experience became obvious as she explained to us the mechanics of DNA and the process of PCR. She explained this concept with hawk-like precision. All the while, her passion for genetics shined through her beaming eyes, making the presentation even more intriguing. She taught us how to use pipettes to transfer small volumes of DNA and other reagents in order to amplify the DNA. Her zesty personality made learning about PCR exciting: her passion for genetics was contagious and soon enough I found myself swooning over the applications of PCR. Although I felt the session came to an end too soon, I was incredibly inspired by Reinbold’s ability to encompass a lifetime’s worth of experience with such youthful passion. Few people have this ability and never have I met someone who matches Reinbold’s ability to pull it off with such ease.

Tony, Careers Team