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Next-generation in situ conservation and capacity building in Madagascar using a mobile genetics lab


Date: 26th May 2019 | Source: BioRxiv

Authors: Marina B. Blanco, Lydia K. Greene, Rachel C. Williams, Anne D. Yoder, Peter A. Larsen.

Madagascar is a biodiversity hotspot that is facing rapid rates of deforestation, habitat destruction and poverty. Urgent action is required to document the status of biodiversity to facilitate efficacious conservation plans. Within country, new generations of Malagasy scientists and conservationists are taking on leadership roles, although many lack access to modern genetic sequencing and are underrepresented in academic publications, when compared to international counterparts.

With the recent advent of portable and affordable genetic technologies, it is now possible to tackle logistical considerations. Mobile genetics labs, with the capacity for in situ DNA extraction, amplification and sequencing, can produce scientifically reproducible data under field conditions, minimizing the time between sample collection and data analysis. Additionally, mobile labs offer powerful training opportunities for in-country scientists that enable local students and researchers to actively participate and contribute fully to the research enterprise, and that further empower these communities to contribute to the conservation dialog.

Here, we show “proof of concept” by deploying a miniaturized thermal cycler alongside the Oxford Nanopore MinION DNA sequencer in Madagascar, including in the newly established Anjajavy Protected Area in northwestern Madagascar. We successfully extracted DNA from tissue samples collected using minimally-invasive techniques, amplified and sequenced a phylogenetically informative mitochondrial gene (cytochrome-b; cytb), and thereby confirmed the presence of Danfoss’ mouse lemur (M. danfossi) within the Anjajavy Reserve.

To demonstrate the reproducibility of our methods, we successfully performed our established molecular and analytical pipeline at two additional locations in Madagascar, where we also conducted two-day workshops at local higher-education Institutions to demonstrate the process from tissue samples to DNA sequencing. Ultimately, we show that a mobile genetics lab can provide reliable and expeditious results, become a powerful educational tool, and allow scientists to conduct genetic analyses, potentially allowing for rapid interventions under emergency conditions in situ.

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