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!
This week, we met Maggie Reinbold, Associate Director for the Conversation Education Division at the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. In a classroom with art and science decor, Ms. Reinbold talked about her job and provided us with a hands-on activity that involved working with DNA samples from California condors.
Ms. Reinbold works in the Conservation Education Division, where she regularly teaches high school biology students and teachers about wildlife conversation with hands-on activities. Along with teaching students, the Conservation Education Division also works with communities in other countries, educating them on how to help save the biodiversity in their area.
The Institute for Conservation Research holds a number of classroom labs that allow various high school students to do hands-on science activities that focus on teaching them about conversation as well as a science education. During the summer, these classrooms are also used to help and teach biology teachers how to run their classes as well as activities and topics to add to their curriculum.
The California condor is the largest flying bird in North America with a wingspan ranging from 8.2 – 9.7 feet wide. Here you can actually see Ms. Reinbold and my fellow intern Tori holding up an example of just how big the condor’s wingspan is. These majestic birds became endangered in 1967 and by 1982, less than 25 condors were left in the wild. With efforts from the San Diego Zoo, a breeding program was established that became essential in order to prevent these birds from becoming extinct.
DNA is the genetic material that makes each animal and person different. What makes California condor’s DNA so unique is that they are gender monogamous, which means that only by looking at their DNA is a person able to discover the gender of the birds. Thus, the condor’s DNA (shown above) has continued to be essential for Zoo’s breeding programs.
DNA is made up of four base pairs (guanine-cytosine and adenine-thymine) that are held by hydrogen bonds and phosphodiester bonds. Since G must be paired with C, and A must be paired with T, intern Samantha helps to write and pair the base pairs to make copies of the DNA.
Individual mini stations with pipettes gave us the chance to work in groups of two to complete a process known as polymerase chain reaction that makes copies of a single region of DNA, in this case, some California condor DNA.
Pipettes are essential tools for laboratory activities to collect and mix the exact measurement of liquids into a test tube. Each pipette has a different color on the top that shows the amount of liquids each pipette can hold ranging from 2-200 microliters (µL).
We made solutions that consist of condor DNA, enzymes, and primers by using a pipette. We then placed them into a centrifuge, which spins the test tube of solution and separates the different substances in the tube.
After the centrifuge, our solutions were placed into a machine that performs the actual polymerase chain reaction. Inside the machine, the temperature changes which allow the various liquids in our solution to mix and this process repetitively creates copies of DNA.
Gel electrophoresis is a process that allows scientists to visualize the different size of DNA pieces that helps to determine the gender of California condors and other birds. Here you can see intern Libby as she puts a small amount of solution into one of the small wells on the machine by using the pipette, which requires a very steady hand.
Once the gel electrophoresis is complete, we looked at the gel to determine the gender of the different condor DNA. The small pink dots are small DNA fragments that moved out of the well and towards the bottom of the gel. The dots that are the closest to the top are the largest pieces, while the ones at the bottom are the smallest.
Eric, Photography Team
Week One, Winter Session 2014