Amazing Wingspan

Zoo InternQuest is a seven-week career exploration program for San Diego County high school juniors and seniors. Students have the unique opportunity to meet professionals working for the San Diego Zoo, Safari Park, and Institute for Conservation Research, learn about their jobs, and then blog about their experience online. Follow their adventures here on the Zoo’s website!

The California condor has been classified as endangered for many decades and came very close to extinction back in the late 1980’s. Before my interaction with Mrs. Maggie Reinbold, Conservation Program Manager at the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, I was not aware of any of this. Mrs. Reinbold taught me how scientists use genetics to help save animals that are endangered or close to being so. She has also showed me that without our help, many animals face extinction due to our own destructive habits like habitat destruction, power lines, and micro trash. With conservation educators like Mrs. Reinbold, our environment has and will continue to advance.

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Interns Charlene and Cameron display the average wingspan of a California condor and the unique white markings that are displayed across the underside of their wings. California condors are the largest birds in North America and have been listed as endangered since 1967 due to habitat destruction and other conflicts created by humans such as lead poisoning and micro trash. In 1987 there were less than 25 condors living on the planet but with the help of conservation researchers from the San Diego Zoo, there are now more than 400 inhabiting California, Arizona, and Baja California.

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One of the tools Ms. Reinbold taught us to use was a micropipette; this tool allowed us to measure liquids in order to create the cocktail needed to complete the Polymerse chain reaction. By completing this reaction, conservation researchers are able to create billions of copies of certain regions of the DNA which helps in the care of endangered animals such as the California condor.

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Tools such as micropipettes help in analyzing the genetics of a California condor in order to determine their gender. By comparing chromosomes, conservation researchers are able to create a plan that helps the population expand by matching certain condors together in order to produce more eggs.

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Polymerse chain reaction (PCR) is the process in which a single region of DNA is copied billions of times which is what interns Marcel and Cam demonstrated by creating new DNA target regions. This process is started by breaking hydrogen bonds using heat and then attaching primers to DNA. The target gene is duplicated and the process is repeated several times.

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By analyzing the chromosomes given to us, we were able to determine the condors’ gender. Female birds are heterogametic which means they have a Z and a W chromosome, while males have two Z chromosomes. Humans on the other hand are reversed. Males have an X and a Y chromosome while the females have two X’s.

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The micropipette and PCR helped us duplicate our target region which allowed us to determine the condors’ gender. Intern Abby is using the pipette to transfer the reaction into the gel which provided the results we needed.

Victoria, Photo Journalist Team
Week One, Winter Session 2013

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