Te Papa’s new DNA lab is up and running.

Last week I performed the first DNA extraction in Te Papa’s brand new genetics laboratory. Our lab is the first genetics lab in a New Zealand museum and will allow Te Papa scientists to analyse the DNA of our unique plants and animals. Genetic information is increasingly being used to examine the relationships between species and help us discover new species, such as these recently described hagfish. We can also use DNA to learn more about individual specimens in Te Papa’s collections, such as these kiwi skins whose identification was uncertain.

Te Papa Botany curator Carlos Lehnebach looking at spider orchid DNA in the new lab.

Te Papa Botany curator Carlos Lehnebach looking at spider orchid DNA in the new lab.

The first experiment I’ve done in the new lab is to isolate DNA from a few extra clubmoss samples to bump up sample numbers for a publication. This builds on the work done by Delaney Burnard for her MSc at Victoria University. Delaney finished her thesis earlier this year and recently started a PhD at the University of the Sunshine Coast.

Clubmoss DNA isolated at Te Papa's new DNA lab. DNA is stained with a dye that enables us to see it under UV light.

Clubmoss DNA isolated at Te Papa’s new DNA lab. The DNA is stained with a dye that enables us to see it under UV light. The column of bands on the left is a size standard that allows us to work out the length of our pieces of DNA.

Most of these extra clubmoss samples are from New Zealand but I also included a few samples  from Fiji and New Caledonia collected by Botany curator Leon Perrie, such as Lycopodium clavatum pictured below.

Lycopodium clavatum L., collected 02 Oct 2012, between Poya and Ponérihouen, near Goipin (Gohapin), alongside vehicle track to Aoupinié peak, New Caledonia. Field collection 2012. CC BY-NC-ND licence. Te Papa (P026591)

Lycopodium clavatum L., collected 02 Oct 2012, between Poya and Ponérihouen, near Goipin (Gohapin), alongside vehicle track to Aoupinié peak, New Caledonia. Field collection 2012. CC BY-NC-ND licence. Te Papa (P026591). Photo by Leon Perrie.

I look forward to sharing some of the results from this research, and other work we are doing in the new DNA lab, in future blogs.

4 Responses

  1. Harm Linsen

    So now it is possible to analyse repatriated moko heads and trace it back to the tribe/family were it came from? Or is that too complicated?
    Yours,
    Harm.

    Reply
    • Lara Shepherd

      Hi Harm,
      Working with human remains, especially very old remains, is very tricky because they don’t contain much DNA so it is very easy to contaminate them with other modern human DNA. So to work on mokomokai requires a special DNA lab with a lot of strict controls to prevent contamination. The University of Otago (Lisa Matisoo-Smith) has such a lab and they have been able to get genuine DNA from very old Maori remains from Wairau Bar. I’m not sure if they are working with mokomokai or not.

  2. Mick Parsons

    That is very exciting news Lara.
    So much to do; I wonder if we will ever see you again!!!

    Reply
    • Lara Shepherd

      Yes, it is very exciting! I’m sure I’ll be let out of the lab every now and again. You missed a great Wellington Botanical Society trip to Stokes Valley the weekend before last. Cheers,
      Lara

Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)