Establishing Best Practices to Minimize Waste in a Conservation Genetics Lab

I am, among other things, a conservation geneticist. What that means is that I use the tools of molecular ecology and population genetics to make observations about species and populations in at-risk ecosystems, assess the status of anthropogenically disturbed populations, and generate data that has direct applications to conservation and management issues. Essentially, the only difference between what I do and what a population geneticist or molecular ecologist does is the motivation—I select systems to work in that have a high conservation priority.

This motivation leads to a constant intellectual conflict at the bench. The tools of molecular ecology—PCR, gene sequencing, and, more frequently, high-throughput sequencing—are waste intensive. In order to avoid cross-contamination and practice precise, clean, technique, we use thousands of tiny plastic consumables every day. These come in the form of pipette tips, sterile packaging material, micro-centrifuge tubes, and numerous other plastic widgets. Often, because of the biohazard potential, these consumable cannot be recycled.

So we have a problem. As a conservation geneticist, we need these tools to produce the data necessary to make wise conservation and management decisions. As a sustainability minded individual, I find the massive daily accumulation of plastic waste inexcusable. Do we just accept this waste as the cost of conservation genetics? I believe that the answer is no. I think we can and should develop best practices to minimize the amount of plastic waste produced by a molecular lab while maintaining good, sterile technique. I would like to propose four guidelines, based off the principles of Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle, for minimizing waste in a conservation genetics lab.

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Tweets from the American Elasmobranch Society: Elasmobranch Genetics

The American Elasmobranch Society is a non-profit professional society focusing on the scientific study and conservation of sharks, skates, and rays. AES members meet each year in a different North American city, and this meeting is the world’s largest annual gathering of shark scientists. AES recently met in Vancouver, British Columbia for the 2012 meeting, and for the first time the event was live-tweeted by meeting attendees, including myself. I’ve organized the best conference tweets by session using Storify. If anyone has any questions or comments about the research presented below, please feel free to share it in the comments section of this blog post.

Here are selected tweets from the Elasmobranch Genetics session.

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Are sandbar sharks more like bowhead whales or cod?

At first glance, the question posed in the title seems silly. Both cod and sandbar sharks are fish, therefore they must be more similar to each other than either are to bowhead whales (which are mammals). However, a recent conservation genetics paper has demonstrated that one aspect of a sandbar shark’s life history is  more similar to that of bowhead whales: both sandbar sharks and bowhead whales have an effective size that is very similar to their census size.


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Crowdsourcing ConGen – A Reading List

This is a little different from my usual Crowdsourcing ConGen posts. I recently completed my qualifying exams for PhD candidacy, so have a very large reading list compiled for population and conservation genetics. So, if you’re interested in the field, you should check out some of these papers, and if you know of any others that should be included, please let me know in the comments. Read More