Our DNA lab, the only museum-based one in New Zealand, celebrated its fifth anniversary last year. Research Scientist Lara Shepherd summarises what we’ve learned so far.
The DNA lab is the only museum-based one in New Zealand. Since it opened we’ve steadily grown to have four permanent staff members who regularly use the lab, as well as several contractors. In addition to staff, 10 visiting researchers and students have also undertaken research in the lab.
DNA data produced in the lab has contributed to 60 scientific publications. In the last three years over a quarter of our science publications have included data generated in our DNA lab!
Most of our DNA research aims to identify specimens of plants and animals or to understand how species are related to one another. The DNA data has been used to describe 16 new species of plants and animals (three ferns, two liverworts, three land hoppers, seven orchids and one land snail). Some examples of the new species are shown below.
Details in the data
The data generated in the lab has also led to the reinstatement of two species of liverwort, one sedge, three ferns and two subspecies of bird. It has also confirmed two new species records for New Zealand (one fungus and one fern).
Other DNA research highlights from the lab include:
- Sequencing the parchments of the Treaty of Waitangi
- Discovering unexpected relationships in the very diverse, but poorly understood, dot snails
- Developing a non-destructive method to obtain DNA from dried plants specimens, using an eraser!
- Finding an Easter Island toromiro specimen in Te Papa’s herbarium that had been hidden for 150 years. This specimen has changed our understanding of the cultivation history of this species, which is extinct in the wild
- Discovering that plants can collaborate to form social colonies
We have plenty more exciting research in progress – watch this space!